The Link Between Venous Insufficiency and Restless Legs Syndrome

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It's hard to ignore the symptoms of restless legs syndrome (RLS). This neurological disorder causes a variety of unpleasant sensations deep inside your legs or feet that only improve with movement. 

While RLS may not seem like a big problem, your symptoms can begin at any age, worsen as you grow older, and interfere with everyday activities, including getting a good night’s sleep.

RLS can have several causes, ranging from pregnancy and genetics to an imbalance in dopamine — the brain chemical involved in controlling muscle movement. And RLS and venous insufficiency may be linked. According to a retrospective study of 207 patients with symptoms of venous disease, 78% of the people with RLS also had venous insufficiency

Our talented team at Vein Center Doctor specializes in vein disorders and has these insights to offer.

Venous system basics

Your body contains arteries and veins which circulate blood throughout your body. Arteries take blood away from your heart, and veins bring it back. You have superficial veins located close to the surface of your skin and deep veins found in your muscles and along your bones.

Many of your veins, especially deep veins in your limbs, contain one-way valves that open and close, which keep your blood flowing in the right direction. As blood pushes toward your heart, these valves open wide, like a swinging door. When gravity or muscle contractions try to pull it in the opposite direction, the valves swing shut, stopping blood from flowing backward.

The problem with venous insufficiency 

If you have venous insufficiency, your veins and valves don’t work properly, which reduces blood flow back to your heart. 

When blood can’t flow back to your heart, it starts to pool in your leg veins instead. This pooling leads to a variety of symptoms, including swollen, heavy, and achy legs or skin ulceration and discoloration. It also puts added pressure on your venous system.

Two of the most common causes of venous insufficiency include varicose veins and blood clots. 

Venous insufficiency and RLS

The deep veins in your legs carry at least 90% of the blood from your extremities back to your heart.

When you have healthy veins, and you stand up, you can expect to have approximately 10 millimeters of pressure at ankle level. However, when you have venous insufficiency, this pressure can be 5-6 times higher by the end of the day. 

This added pressure on your leg veins causes fluid with water and protein to leak into surrounding tissue — like muscle, fat, and skin. As this occurs, you start having uncomfortable swelling and pain in your limbs. 

This fluid also enters your lymph vessels when you lie down or elevate your legs at night. It’s possible that this could cause an electrolyte imbalance on a cellular level, triggering RLS symptoms deep in the legs or feet, such as:

  • Throbbing
  • Aching
  • Itching
  • Creeping
  • Crawling
  • Pulling

Because venous insufficiency symptoms are often similar to the symptoms of restless legs syndrome, we recommend undergoing a comprehensive assessment to look for vein issues, especially if you have obvious signs of a vein disorder. 

To learn more about venous insufficiency and RLS, contact one of our convenient offices in New Jersey and New York to schedule an appointment today.