Restless Legs Syndrome or RLS is a sleep disorder and condition that causes sufferers to feel a crawling sensation in their limbs, most commonly in their calves, ankles, and across their trunk.
Sometimes RLS can cause the sufferer considerable discomfort, causing a throbbing and even stinging sensation in the leg muscles. People who suffer from restless leg syndrome have also described a tingling, creeping, and pulling feeling across their legs and trunks.
Most symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome are felt during periods of extended inactivity, such as long periods of sitting or lying down. Most of the time, sufferers will experience symptoms at nighttime, thus it’s classification as a sleep disorder.
Some people will experience symptoms in only one leg while others will experience them in both.
In rare cases, there have been reports of people experiencing the symptoms of RLS in their arms.
Symptoms will become intensified at night, particularly at the beginning of the sleep cycle. Most people experience a reduction in symptoms in the early morning hours.
When the legs are at rest, the symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome become more pronounced. The distraction and pain of the symptoms causes sufferers to move their legs in an effort to ease pain and find relief, thus the description of restless legs.
Obviously, Restless Legs Syndrome can disrupt a person’s sleep quite significantly. Indeed, RLS almost always results in some degree of insomnia. The presence of irritating sensations and pain, and the involuntary movement and jerking of legs can make getting a good night’s sleep almost impossible which in turn results in daytime fatigue.
Causes of Restless Leg Syndrome
Although the cause of restless legs syndrome remains unknown, it seems to run in families. Research has shown that RLS is more common in groups of people with certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
People with anemia and iron deficiencies are more likely to suffer from Restless Legs Syndrome as are pregnant women. In addition, people who are obese, suffer from diabetes, are heavy coffee drinkers, are smokers and arthritis sufferers may also be more vulnerable to developing restless leg syndrome.
Other more serious conditions such as nerve diseases, hormone diseases, kidney disorders, and polyneuropathy may also be associated with Restless Legs Syndrome.
Some prescription drugs have also been linked to the onset of Restless Legs Syndrome. These include certain antidepressant drugs as well as Zantac and Tagamet. RLS may appear in people of all ages, although it appears to be more common in older people. It is also thought to affect children who may be experiencing growing pains. These children are often mislabeled as hyperactive due to their restlessness. Research suggests that Restless Legs Syndrome tends to develop slowly, with symptoms growing in intensity over a period of time.
Periodic Limb Movements in Sleep – PLMS
Another sleep disorder that is often confused with Restless Legs Syndrome is known as Periodic Limb Movements in Sleep or PLMS. PLMS involves involuntary movement, both bending and jerking, of the legs during the course of a night’s sleep. People who suffer from PLMS may experience movement of the legs every 10 to 60 seconds. Unlike Restless Legs Syndrome, PLMS occurs while the individual is asleep, although the constant movement may cause them to wake throughout the night.
Treatment for Restless Leg Syndrome
Treatment for Restless Leg Syndrome is often difficult because there is no definitive cure.
The first step toward treating RLS is to search for any underlying causes. If you suspect you have restless leg syndrome, your medical professional will conduct blood tests to reveal if you have an iron deficiency and/or anemia. Your doctor will also work to rule out any other possible causes for your symptoms.
Reducing alcohol and caffeine intake, especially before bedtime, can help ease the symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome. If you are a smoker, you can drastically reduce your smoking or quit altogether and help reduce restless leg syndrome significantly. Practicing good sleep hygiene and getting some forms of daily exercise are also important to keep the symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome under control.
If your case of restless leg syndrome is severe enough, your doctor may recommend certain medications. The most common medications prescribed for the treatment of Restless Legs Syndrome include ropinirole, gabapentin, and tramadol.
Other non-prescription options include electric nerve stimulation, acupuncture, and ingesting oral magnesium.