Restless Leg Syndrome

What is Restless leg syndrome ?

When one feels compelled to get up and move around while he/she is resting, whether lying down or sitting, that person may be suffering from Restless leg  Syndrome. Moving around provides temporary relief from the uneasiness caused by the syndrome. Restless legs syndrome, characterized by a pulling or crawling sensation on the skin and leg muscles, brings an uncontrollable urge to move about. Those who are afflicted by this condition feel extremely tired during the day as it disrupts rest and sleep especially at night.

The treatment for Restless leg syndrome is focused towards relieving the symptoms and helping the patient have restful sleep. It should not be left untreated as the syndrome may worsen and become debilitating. The condition also prevents the sufferer from enjoying his/her life to the fullest.

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Restless leg Syndrome statistics – How common is it ?

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is quite common, affecting around 7% to 10% of European and American population. Quite a few of the RLS sufferers experience severe symptoms of the syndrome. The syndrome is two times more common in women than in men, while whites are more likely to be affected than blacks. Although RLS may strike at any age, studies showed that it is more widespread in older people and they often have more severe symptoms. Statistics also showed that around 25% of women developed restless syndrome in the final stretch of their pregnancy. Majority of the affected individuals suffer from periodic limb movement disorder. Meanwhile, those who exhibit the symptoms of RLS during childhood most likely have another family member or relative who is suffering from RLS as well.

What causes Restless Leg Syndrome ?

It is not clear why RLS happens, but medical experts have come up with possible reasons that may trigger its occurrence. These are:

  • Insufficient levels of dopamine

Dopamine is a brain chemical which is very important in controlling body movements. The chemical forms important connections between the different body parts, so the body works more smoothly. Insufficient dopamine levels have been linked to Parkinson’s disease.

  • Genetic predisposition

RLS runs in families and this is one of the reasons for RLS in children. However, if the syndrome occurs in older age to one with no known relative who also suffers from RLS, the condition likely surfaced due to a neurological problem.

  • Caffeine

Stimulants like caffeine incite the nerve endings, triggering uncontrolled movements of different body parts including the legs.

  • Certain medications

There are drugs that trigger RLS and these could be anti-seizure and anti-psychotic.

  • Pregnancy

Experts cannot fully explain why some pregnant women suffer from RLS during the latter course of their pregnancy. It is more baffling that it disappears 3 or 4 weeks following childbirth.

  • Certain diseases

RLS may be a precursor of more serious underlying medical conditions, such as kidney failure, diabetes or Parkinson’s disease.

When the syndrome occurs with no known cause, then it is referred to as primary RLS. However, when it happens after taking certain medications or with another medical condition, it is called secondary RLS.

Restless leg syndrome can greatly affect the quality of life of an individual. This is because the afflicted person does not get sufficient sleep, making him/her lethargic and drowsy during daytime. Getting up and moving around when one is supposed to be sleeping is extremely annoying. The pulling and tingling sensation is unbearable and moving about is the only way to get rid of it temporarily.

Also, people suffering from RLS have concentration and memory problems. They also find it hard to accomplish their daily routines and work and engage in social activities. RLS also causes mood swings and depression.

Restless Leg Syndrome Diagnosis

Doctors diagnose RLS by conducting the following:

  • Physical examination

This is done to rule out any underlying medical condition that may cause the symptoms to occur. The doctor will also examine the flow of blood in the arms and legs as well as the nerves in the spinal cord.

  • Medical history

This will give the doctor an overview of the patient’s overall health, including his/her lifestyle and sleeping habits. It is also done to determine the extent of RLS symptoms.

  • Diagnostic tests

Tests are done to determine any underlying health problems like diabetes, kidney disease, iron deficiency and other vitamin/mineral deficiencies. Blood tests and nerve studies can be done to confirm RLS diagnosis.

Restless Leg Syndrome Treatment

RLS treatment helps those who are affected manage the unpleasant symptoms of the disorder and improve their quality of life. It is also targeted towards treating the underlying medical condition that causes RLS. Part of the treatment plan involves taking certain prescription medications to relieve the symptoms and treat medical conditions.  Regular exercise, adopting good sleeping habits and preventing the symptoms from worsening are all included in the treatment plan.

Restless syndrome may worsen over time, but treatment can help in reducing the severity of the symptoms to promote better sleep, thereby improving the quality of life of the affected individual.


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