Are restless legs keeping you awake at night? There may be a surprising cause: varicose veins. Restless leg syndrome can happen for a variety of different reasons, varying from iron deficiency to neuropathy. But an often-neglected factor to developing symptoms of restlessness in the legs is compromised vein health.
When it’s time for bed after a long day, we all want a good night of sleep. For some, that quality rest is elusive due to an intense need to keep moving.
Are you someone who gets an odd, creeping sensation to move your legs and arms at night?
You may be experiencing restless leg syndrome.
And if you have venous insufficiency as well, that may be a contributing factor to your difficulties staying still at night. For many, seeking treatment can minimize frustrating symptoms of restless leg syndrome. Our team at Central Florida Vein & Vascular Center, home to the best vascular surgeons in Orlando, have seen patients with restless legs improve drastically after treating their venous insufficiency. Let’s look a little closer at how they’re linked.
What is Restless Leg Syndrome?
Restless leg syndrome is characterized by uniquely uncomfortable, tingling feelings in the leg that create an irresistible need to move them to relieve that discomfort.
Although this condition may appear to stem with a problem in the legs, it’s actually a neurological disorder that affects as many as 10% of the US population. RLS is characterized by the intense need to move your legs, which offers relief from pain in the legs.
There isn’t always a correlation between restless leg syndrome and forms of venous insufficiency, such as varicose veins in the legs. The root of this condition is actually found in the brain.
Restless leg syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes your body to constantly feel uncomfortable. And, when we’re uncomfortable, it’s our natural impulse to move until we find a more comfortable position.
Are Restless Legs Ruining Your Sleep?
Have you ever had that throbbing, pulling sensation in your leg that left you with an overwhelming urge to move them, especially at night? Those with restless leg syndrome feel this constant discomfort most often at night—the time when all we want to do is lie down and relax instead of tossing and turning in bed. This can be an understandable source of distress for many. We all need a good night’s sleep to function at our best, and a lack of sleep can lead to exhaustion and irritability.
Symptoms may diminish in the morning, only to grow more noticeable in the late afternoon and evening. The discomfort is usually at its worst at night, when you’re trying to sleep. This can heavily compromise your ability to sleep — and lack of sleep can impact your overall quality of life during the day. Sleepiness has a negative impact on your overall mood, ability to concentrate, job performance, and your relationships with friends and family.
The most frustrating aspect of restless leg syndrome? It is the most present when you’re trying to relax. Those who suffer from restless leg syndrome often find it difficult to get proper sleep. This sleep deprivation can be disastrous for regular, day-to-day activities, as sleep deprivation makes it difficult to focus and accomplish tasks.
What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?
We know restless leg syndrome is neurological. But what affects someone’s risk of developing it? There are various factors that determine your risk. Coincidentally, many of them also directly affect someone’s risk of varicose veins, explaining why people often experience both. These factors include:
- Family history: Like many other health issues, restless legs can be genetic. If you have relatives with restless legs or poor veins, it’s possible that you may also develop them.
- Pregnancy: While having children can be an exciting time, the hormone changes in pregnancy can raise the risk of developing restless legs or venous insufficiency.
- Aging: As we get older, our bodies aren’t as resilient as they were when we were teens. Restless legs and weakening veins can be found often in older individuals.
- Venous insufficiency or venous reflux: Poor vein health can cause the legs to feel irritated or restless, which is a contributing factor to these two conditions being found together.
For restless leg syndrome sufferers who also have varicose veins, can treating the veins help with restlessness? In many cases, treating veins does offer symptomatic relief from restless legs. Treating the veins may not necessarily get rid of your restless legs, but it could be enough relief to help you sleep at night. Let’s look a little deeper.
Common RLS Symptoms
Restless leg syndrome falls under the category of several different disorders. It’s most often characterized as a sleep disorder due to its prevalence at night impact on sleep quality. It is also thought of as a movement disorder due to the need to move in order to relieve symptoms. No matter how you want to classify it, the need for symptomatic relief is huge amongst those who experience it.
If these symptoms resonate with you, know that you’re not alone. It’s estimated that seven to 10 percent of the US population experiences symptoms of restless legs. It can impact anyone regardless of age or gender, although it’s found more often in women and in people who are middle-aged and older. Some people may experience symptoms sporadically, with periods of improvement. Patients with more severe cases of restless leg syndrome may experience symptoms two or more times each week.
Understanding Varicose Veins
Before we discuss how restless legs correlate with venous insufficiency, let’s first understand varicose veins. Valves in your veins are responsible for circulating blood throughout your body. This proves to be difficult in your legs — valves have to work harder to push blood upward, against the flow of gravity. If these vein valves are damaged or weakened, then they aren’t as capable of proper circulation. Blood pools in the vein as a result and creates a varicose vein.
As you can imagine, your legs don’t handle this blood pooling very well. A telltale symptom of varicose veins is the appearance of dark, bulging veins that are visible just under the skin. This can make many feel self-conscious about their legs, but it’s important to note that varicose veins are more than just cosmetic. They can cause the legs to swell and/or feel heavy, sore, itchy, and even restless. These symptoms are often in line with the symptoms reported by patients with restless leg syndrome. Phlebologists have accepted restless legs as a varicose vein symptom that can be minimized with vein treatment.
It’s also worth noting that, when left untreated, varicose veins can leave you at a higher risk for other conditions like venous ulcers and blood clots. It’s always worth seeing a specialist about any vein concerns sooner rather than later.
Neurological vs Physical Conditions
While restless leg syndrome is neurological, varicose veins are a physical condition caused by weakened or damaged vein valves. Your vein valves are responsible for circulating blood throughout your body. These valves don’t perform well when they’re weakened. As a result, blood pools in the lower legs where the valves struggle the most to push blood upward against the flow of gravity. This causes the vein to swell and a varicose vein is formed.
Varicose veins are a nuisance. They can be painful and itchy, and they can also lead to some feeling self-conscious about their legs since varicose veins are often highly visible under the skin. If you keep scratching your legs for relief, an ulcer can form. Blood clots can also form as a result of varicose veins. If left untreated, these clots can travel upwards to a lung. This causes a pulmonary embolism, a fatal condition.
Varicose Veins and Restless Leg Syndrome
Many doctors believe varicose veins and other forms of venous insufficiency can, in some cases, be a cause of restless legs. While there are several reasons why people get varicose veins, the formation of these visible, sometimes painful veins are all related to one cause: non-functioning vein valves.
Vein valves are important because they keep your blood circulating properly, from your legs up toward the heart. Your veins work the hardest in the legs because they have to push blood upwards against the flow of gravity. But if the veins become weak or damaged, then blood will start to pool in the vein. This causes the vein to swell and a varicose vein is formed. Those with varicose veins often experience painful, heavy, or itchy legs.
Some individuals with varicose veins also experience restless legs. In these cases, there’s an easy way to minimize symptoms of restless legs: minimally invasive varicose vein treatment. Dr. Horowitz, a highly-skilled specialist at the Central Florida Vein & Vascular Center, notes that many patients who have undergone vein treatment have also experienced symptomatic relief from restless leg syndrome. Some patients have even been able to stop taking medicine for their restlessness.
How Common are Restless Legs?
Painful, restless legs are much more common than you may think. Up to 15 percent of Americans are experiencing sleepless nights due to legs that just don’t want to stay still. And these high numbers exist for varicose veins as well—venous problems are one of the most chronic conditions in the country. Current estimates say that 20-25 million Americans have varicose veins.
If you’re currently experiencing either of these conditions, you’re not as alone as you may feel. Chances are, you don’t have to look far to find someone who is also having trouble with their legs. Varicose veins, in some cases, are considered a cosmetic issue. While in other cases, it can be a sign of poor overall vein health.
If you’re one of the many struggling with restless legs and varicose veins, consider seeking venous treatment for several reasons. First, varicose veins that are left alone can potentially lead to more serious health concerns like blood clots and ulcers.
Treating veins early is considerably less stressful than treating a blood clot—and you’ll be able to enjoy beautiful, pain-free legs again. Second, it’s likely that treating the veins could help calm your restless legs. Not only will you be confident in your legs again, but you’ll also be able to enjoy a well-deserved night of rest. Although common, if you are ever wondering whether it’s time to visit a specialist or not for you varicose veins, we believe it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Treating Veins for Restless Leg Relief
Venous insufficiency can cause changes in blood volume in the leg throughout the day. Sometimes, correcting that insufficiency can also offer symptomatic relief for restless leg syndrome.
A study published by the Journal of Phlebology states that, in a study of patients with both restless legs and venous insufficiency, 98 percent of patients had symptomatic relief from their restless legs after undergoing vein treatment.
Restless leg syndrome can be a debilitating condition due to its considerable impact on sleep quality. If symptoms can be reduced through vein treatment, then why wait on pursuing treatment? Treatment options for varicose veins are minimally invasive, with little downtime so you can get back to life ASAP. For many patients, that means returning to their daily lives well-rested, without painful or restless legs.
Diagnosing the Cause
If you choose to see a vein specialist about your restless leg syndrome, the treatment process will first begin with a diagnostic vascular ultrasound. This will allow the vein specialist to verify whether you have an underlying case of venous insufficiency. They will then use their findings to create a treatment plan that will be best for your veins.
New Treatment Options Using Sclerosing Agents
Modern treatment has come a long way from painful vein stripping. Now, treatment generally involves applying heat, a sclerosing agent, or specialized medical glue to the vein. Each of these methods closes off the impacted vein, effectively removing it without any scarring. Your specialist may also suggest other, simple lifestyle changes to improve your vein health, including using compression socks or incorporating low-impact exercises into your daily routine to boost circulation in the leg.
Determining the Right Treatment
Treatment for restless legs can vary depending on what’s causing the condition. Patients with restless legs due to an iron deficiency may experience symptomatic relief with iron supplements, while other patients find relief through anti-seizure medication.
There is a specific segment of patients who also find considerable relief by treating a seemingly unrelated condition: varicose veins. But if we look closely, we’ll find that there is a strong correlation between varicose veins and restless legs. As a result, treating one can lead to significant symptomatic relief for the other.
While a definite link between restless leg syndrome and varicose veins hasn’t been established, the two are still often seen together. Luckily, treatment of varicose veins also relieves the symptoms of restless legs for many.
A study by AH Kanter found that patients with both varicose veins and RLS who received sclerotherapy treatment experienced relief through treatment. Ninety-eight percent of patients reported initial relief from their RLS following sclerotherapy treatment! That’s a significant number of patients who could finally get some rest after going through a procedure meant to improve their venous health.
Call the Experts!
Are you wondering if your restless legs could be a symptom of varicose veins? Don’t wait to find relief — come visit our team of the best vascular surgeons in Orlando at Central Florida Vein & Vascular Center. We would love to help you by assessing your vein health and determining whether vein treatment would be beneficial for your restless leg symptoms. You can call us at 407-545-3385 or 352-658-5547 today to schedule a consultation.