Many of us have experienced itchy feet in a figurative sense, prompting us to up-sticks and travel, but around 1 in 10 people literally suffer with this and other symptoms of restless leg syndrome (RLS). This disorder can significantly impair quality of life and even lead to isolation and depression. As it is often linked to chronic venous insufficiency and varicose veins, treatment for these conditions is not just a cosmetic concern, but an important part of improving a person’s overall health and happiness.

Symptoms of restless leg syndrome typically include:

  • An uncontrollable urge to move the legs
  • Itchy, burning and tingling sensations
  • Symptoms that are worse at night and when lying down
  • Symptoms that are relieved by walking or moving the legs
  • Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.

The condition is more common in older adults, with rates of restless leg syndrome increasing after middle age. However, children and younger adults can also suffer from restless legs.

Overlapping Symptoms

As there are numerous potential causes of the condition, there are many health issues which overlap with restless leg syndrome. These may be related to the same underlying cause, or restless legs may be a result of medications, treatments or lifestyle modifications made to contend with a separate health issue.

In other cases, restless leg syndrome may actually lead to other health issues. For example, people with reduced sleep quality are at a greater risk of developing diabetes, becoming overweight or obese, experiencing depression and accidents, and ultimately becoming increasingly sedentary, which can then exacerbate symptoms of RLS. In addition, inappropriate therapies for restless legs can lead to undesirable side effects and complications.

Some causes of and conditions related to restless leg syndrome include:

  • Caffeine and other stimulants
  • Side effects of beta-blockers, antidepressants and other drugs
  • Alcohol
  • Pregnancy
  • Drug withdrawal
  • Iron deficiency anemia and pernicious anemia
  • Chronic liver or kidney failure
  • Nerve damage and peripheral neuropathy (from diabetes and other causes)
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Arterial disease, varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency.

Restless leg syndrome can be a debilitating and devastating health issue, and one study found that men diagnosed with RLS were 39% more likely to die prematurely compared to men without the condition. In another study, 98% of people diagnosed with RLS were later diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. Fortunately, there is hope, with researchers and physicians increasingly knowledgeable about the underlying mechanism and the application of appropriate treatments to relieve restless leg syndrome.

Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) was found to affect 22% of patients with restless leg syndrome in one study, which went on to show that some 98% of the 113 patients treated for CVI had initial relief from RLS. In another study of patients with RLS and venous insufficiency, published in the journal Phlebology, 98% of those treated for the vein condition had relief from restless legs, with 80% experiencing long-term relief.

Determining the cause of restless leg syndrome is clearly of paramount importance for relieving the condition. In some cases it may be as simple as limiting caffeine intake, switching to an alternative medication, or cutting down on alcohol. For other people, the road to relief may be longer, requiring significant lifestyle and dietary modifications to achieve a healthy target weight, improve cardiovascular health, better manage diabetes or correct a serious nutritional deficiency. For others, it may be that a consultation with a varicose vein expert can help put them on a path to treatment and relief of restless legs.


Darvall KA, Bate GR, Adam DJ, Bradbury AW. Generic health-related quality of life is significantly worse in varicose vein patients with lower limb symptoms independent of CEAP clinical grade. Eur J Vasc Endovasc Surg. 2012 Sep;44(3):341-4.

McDonagh B, King T, Guptan RC. Restless legs syndrome in patients with chronic venous disorders: an untold story. Phlebology. 2007;22(4):156-63.

Li, Y, Wang, W, Winkelman, JW, Malhotra, A, Ma, J, Gao, X. Prospective study of restless legs syndrome and mortality among men. Neurology. 2013 Jul 2; 81(1): 52–59.

Kanter, AH. The effect of sclerotherapy on restless legs syndrome. Dermatol Surg. 1995 Apr;21(4):328-32.


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