Having trouble sleeping at night because your legs are throbbing or twinging? You may have restless legs syndrome, a condition that is linked to varicose veins.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS), a condition characterized by uncontrollable itching, twinging, or throbbing sensations in the legs, affects between 7 percent to 10 percent of Americans. Many people with varicose veins experience those same symptoms, which has led researchers to examine whether there’s a connection between the two conditions.
The answer, according to a series of medical studies conducted since the mid-1990s, is yes. These studies analyzed if treating patients diagnosed with both RLS and chronic venous insufficiency — the underlying cause of varicose veins — would ease RLS symptoms. What they found was that in the majority of cases, varicose vein therapies helped patients overcome their RLS.
Here’s a roundup of what the studies say — and why getting treatment for varicose veins may help alleviate your RLS.
RLS and Varicose Veins: What the Studies Say
For many people, RLS is a manifestation of an underlying medical ailment, such as an iron deficiency, diabetes, kidney disease, or a lack of dopamine in the basal ganglia area in the brain. Dopamine controls muscle activity, so when dopamine levels fall, this can cause involuntary movements. This phenomenon is often seen in Parkinson’s disease patients who stand a greater chance of suffering from RLS. Treating those disorders with medications and iron supplements can reduce RLS symptoms.
Certain medications used to treat depression, high blood pressure, and allergies have also been associated with RLS. Yet several studies have documented another possible RLS cause: chronic venous insufficiency, a condition marked by sluggish blood flow in the legs that leads to bulging and throbbing veins. When blood pools and accumulates in the veins, your legs may feel painful and swollen. For many varicose vein patients, these symptoms tend to worsen at night, a further indication of a connection between varicose veins and RLS.
A number of scientific investigations seem to suggest that the two conditions are linked. A 2007 study published in Phlebotomy reported that 98 percent of the 63 RLS patients studied were also diagnosed with chronic venous insufficiency, leading the researchers to remark that RLS and chronic venous insufficiency were “overlapping clinical syndromes.”
An earlier study done in 1995 concluded that varicose vein therapy minimized RLS symptoms in the majority of patients. Of 113 patients treated for varicose veins with sclerotherapy — a surgical procedure in which a substance is injected into the damaged vein to collapse it — nearly 100 percent said their RLS symptoms were relieved following treatment. This positive response to sclerotherapy indicates that RLS patients should be examined for chronic venous insufficiency before being prescribed drug therapy, the report concluded.
Likewise, a 2008 study analyzed the effect of endovenous laser ablation — a varicose vein treatment that uses laser heat to close off the damaged vein — on patients diagnosed with both RLS and venous insufficiency. 80 percent reported improvement in RLS symptoms following therapy. Echoing the prior study, researchers said venous insufficiency must be “ruled out” before beginning medication for RLS.
Will Treating My Varicose Veins Cure My RLS?
These findings strongly suggest that if you suffer from RLS and have yet to find relief, a visit to a vein specialist should be your next step. Using a diagnostic ultrasound, the staff at the Kimmel Institute will determine whether your RLS is due to chronic venous insufficiency. If so, we offer several minimally invasive surgical procedures that permanently eliminate varicose veins along with RLS symptoms.
Contact our office to learn more about varicose vein treatments and how they can help you get a good night’s sleep.