Itchy Legs: 6 Common Causes & What to Do

September 2022

Itchy legs is a relatively common symptom that is reported by adults. It is mostly caused by poor circulation in which blood does not return efficiently to the blood. Blood that accumulates and pools in the legs can cause mild swelling and itching. 

There are many reasons why legs may itch, however, like dry skin or more serious conditions like liver or kidney disease. 

If itchiness lasts for several days or recurs frequently, you should see a family doctor or dermatologist for assessment and treatment as necessary. 

The most most common causes of itchy legs are: 

1. Dry skin

Dry skin can occur at any age, especially if you do not usually use a moisturizing cream. Dry skin is commonly noted as you get older, as the skin’s natural ability to moisturize itself becomes less efficient.

Some people may also notice flaking skin, white patches or redness with dry skin, while other may solely experience itching. 

What to do: One of the best ways to ensure your skin is hydrated is to drink plenty of water throughout the day. You should also apply moisturizing cream routinely.

2. Poor circulation

Like dry skin, poor circulation is another common cause of itchy legs. With normal aging processes, the valves found in leg veins that help with blood return become weaker. This makes it harder for blood to flow back up, toward the heart. 

As blood starts to pool in the legs, tissues will generally receive less oxygen and start to accumulate more toxins. This can cause mild itching that worsens throughout the day. Other common symptoms of poor circulation include swelling, tingling and the feeling of heaviness in the legs. 

Poor circulation is more common in people who stand for long periods at a time and in people with a history of diseases that increase pressure within the blood vessels, like cardiac failure or hypertension. 

What to do: A great way to relieve itching related to poor circulation is massage your legs. You should apply light pressure starting at your ankles and working your way up to your groin. You should also avoid standing for too long and crossing your legs, being sure to rest with your legs elevated when you can. 

3. Insect bites

Many times, itchy legs can simply be a symptom of an insect bite. Many bugs, like some types of mosquitos, prefer to bite the legs, as leg skin is easily accessible, especially in the summer. 

Insect bites will often present with other symptoms like raised red bumps. 

What to do: You can apply anti-itching ointments that are specifically made for insect bites, like After Bite. Otherwise, applying an ice cube or a cold compress over the bite can help to temporarily relieve itching. 

4. Contact dermatitis 

Contact dermatitis is a type of skin irritation that is triggered by direct contact with a certain chemical or substance. Using pants for prolonged periods, especially pants made from synthetic materials, can cause contact dermatitis due to continued rubbing and friction. 

Common symptoms of dermatitis can include skin redness, flaking, and small skin wounds. 

What to do: Discontinue contact immediately with the triggering substance or clothing so that irritated skin can air out. If symptoms do not improve, even after showering, you should see a dermatologist for assessment. Moderate to severe cases of contact dermatitis can be treated with corticosteroid ointments. 

5. Diabetes

Patients who do not adequately follow their prescribed diabetes treatment, or people who do not know they have diabetes, can experience several health consequences, like neuropathy. Neuropathy is a condition in the which the nerve endings become damaged from elevated blood sugar levels. This can cause skin tingling and itching.

Neuropathy will usually start out in the feet, legs or hands, which is why itching of the extremities may be an early sign of diabetes. Other symptoms that are associated with uncontrolled or undiagnosed diabetes is urinary frequency, thirst, constant hunger and rapid weight loss. 

What to do: If you suspect you have diabetes, you should see your family doctor for a blood test to confirm a diagnosis. From there, the most appropriate treatment plan can be formulated. Learn more about diabetes treatment and the different options available.

6. Kidney or liver disease

Although this is less common, itchy legs can also be an initial sign of a kidney or liver problem. Usually, the liver and kidneys help to filter the blood. Any problems with these processes can lead to the accumulation of toxins within body tissues, which can cause itching. Read more about symptoms of liver disease and kidney problems to look out for.

Other health problems like hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism can also lead to itchy legs. 

What to do: You should see your family doctor if you suspect your itchy legs may be related to another health condition. The doctor may refer you to another specialist and order additional testing, like urine tests, ultrasound and blood tests. 

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Edited by Tua Saude editing team in September 2022. Medical review completed by Dr. Clarisse Bezerra - Family Doctor in August 2022.
Medical review:
Dr. Clarisse Bezerra
Family Doctor
Dr. Bezerra possesses a medical degree and specializes in family medicine. She is licensed to practice under CRM-CE licence #16976.