Could varicose veins be the cause of your restless legs syndrome? Several scientific studies suggest they could be.
The symptoms of varicose veins and restless legs syndrome (RLS) are so similar that medical researchers have investigated whether the two conditions are connected. Given that both disorders cause painful itching and throbbing in the legs, especially at night when patients try to sleep, it’s easy to see how the two could possibly be linked.
To alleviate the tingling and crawling sensations of RLS, patients constantly move their legs to find relief, but with little success. Likewise, people who suffer from varicose veins experience an increase in symptoms at night. Although RLS has been attributed to a number of medical disorders, several scientific studies suggest varicose veins could be yet another cause of those irksome symptoms that may be keeping you up at night.
Iron deficiency, neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, and chronic conditions including diabetes and kidney disease all contribute to the development of RLS. Certain medications used to treat high blood pressure, heart disease, allergies, and depression may be the source of RLS, as well.
At the same time, mounting medical evidence points to varicose veins as an underlying cause of RLS in some patients. Those protruding twists of varicose veins form when valves in the leg veins fail to pump blood back to the heart. This build-up of blood stretches the vein wall, leading to varicose veins appearing along the legs and feet. Varicose veins can be asymptomatic, or they can cause pain, swelling, and a heavy feeling in the legs — characteristics varicose veins have in common with RLS.
A 1995 study published in Dermatological Surgery screened more than 1,300 patients for RLS and venous insufficiency. Of that number, 113 patients were treated with sclerotherapy, a common treatment for varicose veins that uses an injection of a safe substance to close up the damaged varicose vein.
Nearly all of those treated with sclerotherapy — 98 percent — reported an immediate reduction in RLS symptoms. Recurrence rates were low, with 8 percent patients experiencing a return of RLS within one year and 28 percent at two years.
Those results mirrored the findings of a 2007 study reported in Phlebology: The Journal of Venous Disease. Of the 174 patients studied, 63 were diagnosed with RLS, and of that number 62 tested positive for chronic venous disorders. Like the earlier study, researchers concluded RLS and varicose veins appear to be overlapping conditions. Patients who have RLS should be examined for venous insufficiency and subsequently treated for that disorder if present instead of being prescribed one of several medications used to treat RLS, the researchers noted.
If you suffer from RLS, at-home remedies may help you sleep. Walking, massaging your legs, and stretching exercises before you go to bed are great relaxation techniques. (Those treatments help ease the symptoms of varicose veins, too.) Soaking your legs in a warm or cold water is another way to help you get the rest you need. Cutting back on caffeine and alcohol will make your nighttimes more restful, as well.
If you’ve been trying to determine the reason for your RLS and haven’t found it yet, you might want to visit a vein specialist to determine if the underlying cause is venous insufficiency. Remember, not all varicose veins are visible, so you may have damaged veins hidden deep within your leg. At the Vein and Vascular Interventional Associates Vein Clinic, we use state-of-the-art diagnostic tools to identify varicose veins. We’ll propose a treatment plan to eliminate the unsightly gnarls of veins and their accompanying symptoms. Make an appointment with us today.