What is Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)?
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, is a nervous system disorder that affects about 10% of Americans. Those who suffer with RLS experience aching, twitching, tingling, burning, or prickling sensations in the lower leg muscles when they lie in bed or sit down. The discomfort is temporarily relieved by standing or walking. Restless legs syndrome typically occurs in the evening when you are sitting or lying down.
RLS is a reason for insomnia in many people. RLS can interfere with sleep and cause daytime sleepiness and fatigue, which may lead to other health conditions.
What causes Restless Legs Syndrome?
The exact cause of restless legs syndrome is unknown. Researchers believe that the condition is caused by an imbalance of dopamine in the brain. RLS tends to be hereditary. RLS is more common after middle age and occurs more frequently in women.
Many people with RLS can recall “growing pains” in their legs during childhood. It may be that a nerve malfunction is involved. RLS has also been linked with alcohol dependence, smoking, too much caffeine, rheumatoid arthritis, anemia, and diabetes. Some medicines may worsen symptoms. RLS also appears to accompany underlying conditions such as iron deficiency, pregnancy, or neuropathy.
Symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome
The main symptom of restless leg is the urge to move your legs. You may feel unusual sensations in your legs while resting or lying down such as:
Other characteristics of RLS include nighttime leg twitching and symptoms worsening at night or while you are resting. Relief from the symptoms typically happens when you stand up or walk around. Symptoms may not always be present.
How do we diagnose Restless Legs Syndrome?
While there is no specific test for RLS, the diagnosis is based on evaluation and your medical history. Your health care provider will examine you and may order blood tests or other tests to check for underlying medical problems, including anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, or diabetes.
Your physician will focus on the symptoms, factors that trigger the symptoms, and how often the symptoms occur. Questions you may be asked during an evaluation include:
- How often do your symptoms occur?
- Does movement help alleviate your symptoms?
- How long does it take to fall asleep?
- Do you experience daytime sleepiness or fatigue during the day?
- Do you have any underlying medical conditions?
Treatment for Restless Legs Syndrome
RLS is a condition with no cure but may be managed with medication. Your health care provider can prescribe medicine to relieve the symptoms and improve sleep. Levodopa (Sinemet), a drug usually used for Parkinson’s disease, is often prescribed for restless legs syndrome. Treatment to alleviate symptoms of RLS without medication include leg massages, hot baths, and heating pads.
If you experience mild to moderate RLS symptoms, small lifestyle changes may help. These changes include exercising regularly, following a sleep schedule, and cutting out caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol.
Healthy sleep is important If you struggle with sleep over a long period of time, it’s time to consult a sleep specialist. Seeking a sleep medicine specialist could also be beneficial if you believe you are experiencing a sleep disorder like restless legs syndrome. If you are looking to get quality sleep and improve your overall health, call Gwinnett Sleep at 678-582-1929 to schedule an appointment today.