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Treating Varicose Veins to Ease RLS

By

Sarah Lewis, PharmD

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hand-on-leg-with-varicose-veins

Most everyone knows what varicose veins look like—twisted, bulging veins, usually on the legs. They are the result of faulty vein valves. Veins have one-way valves to keep blood flowing back towards the heart. If a valve fails or leaks, blood can pool in that area of the vein and enlarge it.

If you suffer from varicose veins, you may also be familiar with what they feel like. While some people don’t have symptoms, others experience painful, achy, heavy-feeling legs. Leg cramping, throbbing and itching may also occur. These symptoms are very similar to the sensations of restless legs syndrome (RLS). In fact, having varicose veins is one of the causes of secondary RLS.

Varicose veins are a secondary cause of RLS.

Most cases of RLS are considered primary RLS. This means there is no known cause for it. But sometimes RLS occurs due to an underlying medical condition. This is known as secondary RLS. There are various causes of secondary RLS and varicose veins are one of them. Other conditions that may cause secondary RLS include:

  • Iron deficiency

  • Kidney failure

  • Medications including drugs to treat nausea, antipsychotic medicines, antidepressants that increase serotonin, and antihistamines

  • Peripheral neuropathy

  • Pregnancy

  • Stress, sleep deprivation, and other environmental factors

Examining your body for varicose veins should be part of your doctor’s evaluation for RLS. He or she will also screen for other secondary causes. If you’re aware of having varicose veins, be sure to mention it to your doctor.

Treating varicose veins can ease RLS symptoms.

In secondary RLS, treating the underlying cause may help relieve RLS symptoms. There are a variety of procedures to treat varicose veins, including the following:

  • Sclerotherapy uses a chemical that irritates the lining of your veins. This causes them to shrink and eventually disappear. Sclerotherapy may be feasible for small varicose veins.

  • Laser therapy heats the veins through your skin. This damages the veins and causes them to slowly disappear.

  • Endovenous procedures use a catheter and a probe to seal the vein from the inside.

  • Surgery removes or ties off the vein.

Treating varicose veins seems to be quite effective for relieving RLS symptoms. One study found 98% of RLS patients with varicose veins reported relief from RLS symptoms after sclerotherapy. However, the problem with varicose veins is they tend to recur as long as you have risk factors for them. So it isn’t surprising that the study of sclerotherapy found a 28% recurrence of RLS symptoms two years later. Repeat treatment may be necessary if varicose veins recur.
Talk with your doctor to decide when or if varicose vein treatment is right for you. It may prevent or delay the need for medications to control your RLS symptoms. Other strategies for managing varicose veins include losing excess weight, getting moderate exercise, and wearing compression stockings.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Sep 9, 2015

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Medical References

  1. Kanter AH. The effect of sclerotherapy on restless legs syndrome. Dermatol Surg. 1995 Apr;21(4):328-32.
  2. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) and Sleep. National Sleep Foundation. http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems/restless-legs-syndrome
  3. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) Treatment. National Sleep Foundation. http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems/restless-legs-syndrome/treatment
  4. Varicose Veins. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/vv
  5. Restless Legs Syndrome Diagnosis and Treatment in Primary Care. Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation. http://www.rls.org/Document.Doc?&id=1296

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