Restless legs syndrome (RLS) results in difficulty sleeping during the night due to an uncomfortable sensation affecting the legs. This sleep disorder results in the feeling of almost constant movement of your legs all by themselves. The symptoms of RLS can have a substantial impact on the quality of your life due to sleep being interrupted. The result is both stress and secondary health issues. There are a lot of potential causes for RLS including venous disease.
If you suspect you may be suffering from restless legs syndrome, your best option is making an appointment with your doctor. RLS is also referred to as Willis EskboM disease. Chinese physicians initially described the condition in 1527. French physicians described RLS again in 1763. The first possible link between venous insufficiency and restless legs syndrome was made in 1944 by Dr. Karl A. Ekbom. The main characteristics of RLS are an uncontrollable urge to move your legs and painful or unpleasant sensations throughout your legs. This is called paresthesias or dysesthesias.
You may experience symptoms when you are at rest, inactive or relaxing. In the majority of cases, the severity of the symptoms increases while the individual is sleeping at night or just after they have woken up in the morning. You are most likely moving your legs to alleviate or decrease your discomfort. The need to move your legs constantly combined with the discomfort will disturb your sleep.
A doctor will perform diagnostic screenings and run blood tests to help determine if you have RLS. To diagnose your condition successfully, the physician mainly relies on a combination of your family history and specific symptoms. If all other possible causes for your symptoms have been eliminated, your physician may diagnose you with restless legs syndrome.
The Causes and Associations of Restless Legs Syndrome
In addition to the potential link to varicose veins, RLS has also been associated with not enough iron being stored within the brain and genetic causes. Another possibility is a decrease of dopamine in the brain’s basal ganglia. This section of the brain has been linked to Parkinson’s disease as well. There are known associations between RLS and diabetes, renal insufficiency, peripheral neuropathy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and iron deficiency anaemia. The cause of restless legs syndrome can also be venous insufficiency.
You can also develop RLS due to chronic disease. Your condition can be improved by properly treating the disease associated with your RLS. A good example is when iron deficiency anaemia is the cause of RLS. Normalising your iron levels will treat the disease and cure or improve your restless legs syndrome.
One of your blood proteins containing iron is called ferritin. Your physician can determine how much iron is being stored by your body through a ferritin test. If your level of blood ferritin is too low, your body is not storing enough iron. This means you have an iron deficiency potentially causing your RLS.
The Link Between Venous Insufficiency and Restless Legs Syndrome
Evidence has shown there is a link between restless legs syndrome and venous disease including lymphedema and varicose veins. Both of these conditions result in heaviness, discomfort and pain in the legs. The symptoms can keep you awake at night due to additional restlessness in your legs.
Vein disease often has vague symptoms such as aching, throbbing, burning, heaviness, stinging, swelling and itching. It is entirely possible the symptoms of RLS in relation to underlying vein disease can be missed by both you and your doctor. If any of the symptoms sound familiar, your should arrange to have a consultation. If you receive a diagnosis of underlying venous disease and RLS, there are treatments available.
Varicose vein specialists have been listening to the way patients describe their symptoms for a long time. The symptoms are often extremely close to that of restless legs syndrome such as creepy-crawly, buzzing and throbbing pains in the lower extremities. Phlebologists have long accepted RLS as a symptom of venous insufficiency. A paper was published in 2007 regarding the link between chronic venous disorders and restless legs syndrome. The study performed was case-controlled. The clinical difference was compared between one group with restless legs syndrome with no venous insufficiency and the other with both venous insufficiency and RLS.
The group with both showed a greater prevalence of cramping in the legs as opposed to the group with only RLS. The association led to the question of whether or not treating individuals with both restless legs syndrome and venous insufficiency would result in an improvement of both conditions. A ground-breaking paper was published in the Phlebology journal in 2008 on the effect of endovenous laser treatment on RLS. The study encompassed patients with RLS and venous insufficiency proven through ultrasound.
The participants were separated into non-operative and operative groups. The operative group received sclerotherapy and laser ablation. The results showed the RLS score was decreased by 80 percent. The score decreased 15 points for 89 percent of the participants in the operative group. Of all the participants, 31 percent stated their RLS symptoms were completely relieved, while 53 percent stated their RLS symptoms were greatly relieved. The conclusion of the study was patients diagnosed with restless legs syndrome should receive an ultrasound evaluation before any therapy starts or continues.
Managing RLS Symptoms
Although RLS is serious, the condition is treatable. The best way to live with the symptoms is to manage them through lifestyle changes. This includes limiting your consumption of alcohol and caffeine, discussing potential treatment options with a healthcare professional and taking hot baths or iron supplements. No two individuals experience RLS in exactly the same way. This is the reason talking to a professional regarding the best options for controlling your RLS symptoms is so important. The potential lifestyle changes that may be recommended by a professional for your RLS include:
- Decreasing or eliminating your intake of alcohol.
- Determining if there is an underlying vitamin or iron deficiency. Potentially supplementing your diet with folate, vitamin B12 or iron.
- The implementation of a program to improve your sleep habits.
- Determining if you are using any over-the-counter or herbal medications potentially making your RLS worse.
- Examining certain activities that may help you cope with RLS symptoms better.
- Examining any medications you may be using with the potential of making your RLS symptoms worse. The medications may include drugs for the treatment of heart conditions, colds, depression, high blood pressure, nausea and allergies.
- Improving your sleep regime by eliminating or decreasing your consumption of caffeine.
- Identifying any activities or habits that may make your RLS symptoms worse.
- Using techniques including stretching, massage, walking, taking cold or hot baths, relaxation and acupressure.
- Making certain you are consuming a balanced and healthy diet.
Foot Wrap Treatments for Restless Legs Syndrome
You may be able to help decrease your RLS symptoms by using a special foot wrap during the evenings. When you place the wrap on your foot, continuous pressure is applied to your foot muscles. The wrap is believed to work by sending a signal to your brain that your leg muscles need to relax. The result may be relief from restless legs syndrome sensations. According to the initial research, individuals using the special foot wrap showed a significant decrease in symptoms in addition to sleeping better when wearing the wrap.
The special wrap is a non-pharmacological treatment. Since no drugs are required, there are no negative side effects associated with some medications for RLS. According to the initial study, some patients experienced mild side effects due to the straps. Loosening the straps eliminated the side effects. A prescription from a physician is necessary to purchase the RLS straps.
Vein Treatments for Restless Legs Syndrome
A recent study showed 98 percent of all individuals with restless legs syndrome experienced relief after receiving a treatment for varicose veins in the legs called non-surgical sclerotherapy. A lot of physicians believe restless legs syndrome is caused by underlying vein problems. When this outpatient procedure is used to treat the veins, the patients experience relief from RLS symptoms. When the valves within your veins become unhealthy, the result is often the development of varicose veins. When your valves are leaking or failing, your blood falls backward.
As your blood goes through your improperly functioning valves, it will start to pool. The result is bulging, twisted or enlarged veins. Scientists believe there is a link between restless legs syndrome and the side effects caused by varicose veins. This includes pain, itching, cramping, throbbing, fatigue, burning and restlessness. There are extremely effective modern treatments for both the symptoms of RLS and varicose veins. No surgery is necessary for these treatments and are minimally invasive.
Treating Restless Legs Syndrome at Home
There are a lot of activities recommended to help manage your RLS symptoms at home. The recommendations include massaging your legs, cold or hot packs, acupressure, walking, stretching and vibrations. Some individuals have successfully eliminated their RLS symptoms through relaxation techniques including yoga and meditation. A lot of people have found relief for the majority of their symptoms by having the underlying cause such as varicose veins treated, performing coping strategies and specific pharmacological treatments.
Consulting with a physician on a regular basis is recommended because medications may be required, your dosages adjusted or your medication changed as time passes. In addition, there are natural methods you can use to treat your restless legs syndrome including:
- Exercising more often can help improve your circulation. Many physicians recommend cycling or swimming. Even performing some yoga or taking regular walks can help with your RSL symptoms. You can also help increase your circulation by flexing the muscles of your calves while you are seated such as at your desk during the workday.
- You should avoid stimulants during the evening such as alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. If this does not offer relief from your RLS symptoms during the day, you should consider eliminating all of these stimulants from your diet.
- You may be able to relax your legs through a massage or bath before bedtime. The result may be a much better night’s sleep.
- Your muscles need magnesium to function properly. You need to make certain your body is getting enough magnesium or you may experience aches and pains due to tense muscles. The foods highest in magnesium include mackerel, figs, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, spinach, brown rice and avocados.
- You should have your iron levels checked. Iron deficiency is one possible cause of restless legs syndrome. A physician can check both your ferritin and iron levels. The foods highest in iron include red meat, pumpkin seeds, spinach, mussels and lentils. You can also purchase iron supplements at health stores and most supermarkets.
- If you are having difficulty sleeping due to RSL symptoms, try distracting yourself from any unpleasant sensations by watching television or reading a book.
Restless legs syndrome has been commonly linked to venous insufficiency. If you have both venous insufficiency and restless legs syndrome, treatment of your insufficiency can result in a tremendous improvement in your symptoms. In turn, this will improve the quality of your life. The only way to accurately diagnose RLS is to consult with a medical specialist.
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