Restless Leg Syndrome (also known as RLS) is a poorly understood movement disorder affecting approximately one in six people (3 – 15% of the general population) and can affect both children and adults.
The cause of primary RLS is unknown. Restless Leg syndrome causes unpleasant feelings in the legs, including crawling sensations, prickling, aching, tickling sensations, and a feeling of tiredness or heaviness of the legs, as well as an urge to move the legs when sitting down or lying in bed. Even when asleep, the legs continue to move not allowing the person to sleep well.
However there are now several clinical studies that have shown an association between venous insufficiency (varicose veins) and Restless Leg Syndrome. In patients with varicose veins and RLS, vein insufficiency should be ruled out first before initiation of drug therapy or referral to a neurologist.
A study by Kantor in 1995 showed that sclerotherapy helped 98% of those treated. McDonough in 2002 found 100% of his patients studied with varicose veins and restless legs were helped when the veins were fixed. McDonough, King and Gupta in 2007 found that 91% of patients with restless legs had a vein disorder.
Therefore a large number of patients with restless legs and varicose veins will find relief of their restless leg symptoms when the vein problem is fixed. Clearly other causes of RLS exist, and the author does not claim that venous insufficiency and its treatment is the solution to RLS.
Other possible causes of RLS are genetics, particularly in those who develop it before age 40, iron deficiency anemia, kidney failure, Parkinson’s disease, thyroid disease and pregnancy.
It is important to note that venous insufficiency can be objectively evaluated and diagnosed by ultrasound, whereas RLS is primarily a diagnosis of exclusion. Patients with varicose veins should first consider venous insufficiency as a contributing factor to their RLS and ask for a consultation with an experienced vein specialist prior to initiating medical therapy for RLS.