Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

What is Restless Leg Syndrome?

Restless Leg Syndrome, or RLS, is a very common ailment in the United States, with around 5 million adults suffering from a moderate to severe form of the disorder. Patients with RLS experience intense, uncomfortable sensations in their legs, including burning, tingling, “tugging” sensations, itching, and a feeling of the skin crawling, among others.

RLS sensations are accompanied by an urge to move the legs to get relief from the sensations. Patients may find relief upon movement, but it lasts only as long as the movement does. The unpleasant sensations return as soon as movement ceases. The term “restless leg syndrome” comes from the constant need to move to find relief.

Symptoms generally set in after a period of inactivity, such as after working at a desk for a few hours, or once the patient has gone to bed. Patients are generally more troubled by symptoms at night, and the syndrome tends to worsen with age. While women are affected twice as often, men can develop RLS as well.

RLS sufferers may also experience Periodic Limb Movements of Sleep (PLMS), which is jerking and twitching of the legs due to involuntary movements while the patient is sleeping. This can disturb the rest of both the patient and their bed partner.

What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?

According to research, RLS may be caused by an imbalance of a chemical in the brain called dopamine, making RLS a neurological disorder. It may also be due to poor uptake of iron within the brain. If you have been diagnosed with RLS, you may find some degree of relief with massage, taking a warm bath before bed, stretching, exercise such as walking, and minimizing your intake of caffeinated beverages and alcohol. However, these are not long-term solutions.

RLS is categorized as either primary or secondary RLS. Currently the cause of primary RLS is unknown.  There are numerous causes of secondary RLS. Chronic vein disease is one of the known secondary causes of RLS. Treatment of a patient’s underlying venous insufficiency frequently leads to improvement in their RLS symptoms.

What Treatments are Available for Restless Leg Syndrome?

In 2008, Dr. Clint Hayes published an article titled “The Effect of Endovenous Laser Ablation on Restless Legs Syndrome” in the medical journal Phlebology. In this study, he showed that in patients with both RLS and venous insufficiency, 98% of patients experienced relief from RLS symptoms by treating their venous insufficiency, and 80% had long-term relief. This is why we recommend all patients with RLS have an evaluation for venous insufficiency.

Venous Reflux Disease is much more common than RLS, with an estimated 40% of women over the age of 40 suffering from the condition. Venous reflux disease is also responsible for the formation of varicose veins.

In cases of Venous Reflux Disease, vein valves become damaged or diseased, resulting in their failure. When valves fail it allows for a backward flow of blood within the vein which is referred to as venous reflux. The backed-up blood pools, resulting in an increase of pressure within the veins. This may cause surface veins to dilate, leading to visible, bulging varicose veins.

The good news is that Venous Reflux disease can be effectively treated, thus improving RLS symptoms. A minimally-invasive endovenous ablation procedure will destroy the abnormal veins in under an hour, greatly improving appearance and eliminating symptoms. Patients can return to normal activities with only mild soreness and bruising, which can be treated with over -the-counter pain relievers. The success rate for this treatment is around 98%.

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