Are intermittent claudication and RLS related?

In one of my previous blogs I made a brief comparison between intermittent claudication and restless legs. I then indicated that it concerns two different conditions. However, the two are still sometimes confused.

The reason for my comparison was a comment from a friend about vitamin B11. She had read in a reference book of orthomolecular medicine that restless legs could be related to a shortage of this vitamin. In the same source she saw something about intermittent claudication and then mixed them up with RLS.

Later I ran into this confusion again with an employee of an online store for compression stockings. I asked her advice. Her answer showed that she didn’t really know what restless legs are. She was apparently under the impression that there isn’t much of a difference between RLS and intermittent claudication.

In this blog I will go deeper into the subject. I ask the following questions:

  1. What is intermittent claudication?
  2. Is there a link between intermittent claudication and restless legs?

What is intermittent claudication

Intermittent claudication is a vascular disease in which the arteries in the legs gradually narrow. The cause of this is arteriosclerosis. Clogging of the arteries does not have to be limited to the legs. All arteries in the body can be affected.

Due to the narrowing, too little oxygen-rich blood flows to the legs while walking. During exercise, the legs need more oxygen than at rest. The deficiency causes pain, cramping or numbness. It’s as if the muscles are souring. Usually the pain is experienced in the calves, but it can also be felt in the thighs or in the glutes. This depends on where the artery is narrowed.

Walking faster, climbing a slope or exposure to cold cause more complaints. If you stand still for a moment, the oxygen deficiency is naturally replenished through the bloodstream. If you then start walking again, the pain will return after a while. The less far you can walk, the more serious the disease has progressed.

Arterial narrowing is a natural aging process. However, there are factors that speed up the process, such as poor nutrition, smoking, lack of exercise and stress. It can also be a hereditary issue. People with diabetes are more likely to have an accelerated narrowing.

With aggravated artery narrowing, leg pain can also occur at night or when you lie on the couch for a while. This is kind of a rest pain. This pain is usually in the forefoot or the toes. The foot feels cold or “deaf”. The pain will be less if you let your legs hang out of bed or if you get up.

Lifestyle and medication

To prevent aggravation of the narrowing process, activities to increase blood flow to the legs are recommended. These are for instance regular walking, quitting smoking and healthy eating. Walking training courses are offered by physiotherapy. A lifestyle coach or a dietitian can be helpful. The running training consists of, among other things, walking, cycling and muscle strengthening exercises.

Scientific research shows that walking therapy and lifestyle counseling are sufficient in most cases. The effect of the therapy is comparable to angioplasty, stent placement or bypass surgery. In this way, such an invasive procedure is no longer necessary in 80% of the cases.

About one in five adults over 50 suffer from intermittent claudication. In the Netherlands this amounts to almost a million people. Intermittent claudication increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. The heart has to work harder because of the artery narrowing.

There are no drugs to heal the ailment. However, there are medicines that reduce the risk of blood clots, such as blood thinners, and medicines for high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

Restless legs

Intermittent claudication and restless legs are definitely two different conditions. There are a few similarities, but above all there are also many differences. One similarity is that the complaints are often felt in the calves. Another similarity is that exercise and lifestyle changes help to reduce symptoms.

An important difference is that the pain in intermittent claudication occurs while walking. With RLS, the symptoms are actually felt when you are sitting or lying down. The complaints are also different in themselves. Restless legs mainly give an unpleasant feeling, not so much pain or cramps. In the first instance, you want to move the legs with restless legs. In case of intermittent claudication standing still for a moment helps to reduce the discomfort.

If the artery narrowing of the shop window legs worsens, complaints can also develop at rest. I already referred to this as a kind of rest pain. The cause of these symptoms is quite different from that of restless legs. RLS does not involve arteriosclerosis, but rather a lack of dopamine.

The therapy for intermittent claudication is gait training. Walking also helps with restless legs. However, walking is not necessarily a pleasant experience when you suffer from intermittent claudication. Walking helps, but it is also a challenge. For people with RLS, walking is an activity that provides immediate symptom relief.

In conclusion, I can say that intermittent claudication and RLS are quite different from each other. The confusion between the two conditions is somewhat understandable, but if you delve into the matter a bit, not really necessary.

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