Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a disorder which often interferes with sleep because it causes both uncomfortable sensations in the legs and a strong urge to move the legs in order to alleviate the symptoms.
What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?
Medical research has not conclusively determined the cause of RLS. Many experts believe, however, that restless leg syndrome is dopaminergic and that RLS is a type of neuropathy, which is disease of the nervous system. Dopamine is a chemical produced in the brain which serves as a transmitter between the brain and nerve cells. An imbalance of dopamine is very possibly a cause of RLS.
There are a few things which are known conclusively about restless leg syndrome, such as the following:
- Children can inherit RLS through their gene pool; approximately 60% of people with this genetic condition have at least one family member who also have restless leg syndrome.
- It’s not a serious condition in and of itself.
- About 40% of all pregnant women experience restless leg syndrome, and for some women the disorder is present only during pregnancy.
- RLS is sometimes confused with periodic limb movement disorder, which involves rhythmic movements of the legs and arms during sleep.
There are other risk factors for RLS besides pregnancy and genetics, including the following:
- Some health conditions can set off restless leg syndrome, including rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, kidney failure, and an iron deficiency.
- Middle-aged adults and the elderly are the groups who most frequently suffer from restless leg syndrome.
- Stress can worsen the symptoms of RLS.
- Obesity increases the chances of suffering from RLS.
- Restless leg syndrome occurs more frequently than normal in patients who have Parkinson’s disease and peripheral neuropathy.
- People are at a greater risk of having restless leg syndrome if they consume caffeine or take any of the following medications: Calcium channel blockers, neuroleptics, or lithium.
- Experiencing withdrawal from tranquillizers sometimes causes restless leg syndrome.
Signs and Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome
RLS usually occurs when lying in bed or when a person is sitting still for prolonged period, such as during a movie or on a lengthy car ride. The following are signs and symptoms of restless leg syndrome:
- It usually occurs in the calves, but the thighs, feet, or arms are also sometimes affected.
- The unpleasant sensation created by RLS is described in a variety of ways, including an aching, crawling, tingling, searing, pulling, or creeping feeling.
- An episode can last for an hour or longer.
- The uncomfortable sensation creates an irresistible urge to walk or move the legs. The movement provides immediate relief, but the symptoms typically return as quickly as the movement stops.
Treatment of Restless Leg Syndrome
Healthcare providers sometimes don’t diagnose RLS for any type of treatment, whether with mineral supplements or pharmaceutical drugs. There aren’t any medical tests designed to diagnose RLS, although tests may be conducted to rule out or identify the presence of somewhat similar disorders. But the following are treatments which have proven to provide relief for some patients:
- Relaxation techniques such as soaking in a warm bath, getting a massage, or routinely doing gentle stretching exercises.
- Pramipexole and ropinirole are medications which, in low doses, are sometimes used to effectively treat RLS.
- Iron supplements can help with patients found to have iron deficiencies. Please note: Under no circumstances should iron supplements be taken without the advice of a physician.
- Narcotic drugs are sometimes effective in relieving RLS.
Insomnia Caused by Restless Leg Syndrome
The most serious complication caused by RLS is insomnia, which can easily disrupt quality of life. While other causes of insomnia, such as eating spicy foods too close to bedtime, can be controlled by making behavioral changes, RLS doesn’t have a definitive cure. Sleeplessness can have many adverse effects, including the following:
- An increase in emotional sensitivity
- Diminished interest in sexual activity
- Fatigue, which can go so far as to make it dangerous to drive or operate any type of heavy machinery
- Feelings of isolation and a withdrawal from society
- Rapid weight loss
- Difficulty dealing with daily stress factors
- Difficulty concentrating
- Negativity and a pessimistic outlook
- Career problems created by all of the other effects of insomnia
Advice for the Prevention of Restless Leg Syndrome
- The most effective way to prevent RLS is to address the risk factors which can trigger the condition.
- Get proper exercise in order to combat obesity. Target your legs, but be sure to begin your exercise routine gradually, if you’re out of shape. The types of exercise which seem to be most beneficial for preventing episodes of RLS include swimming, bicycling, walking, yoga, and gym workouts.
- Because it’s genetic, discuss RLS with family members to find out whether any relatives have the syndrome.
- Increase your intake of vitamins and minerals, and this is best done through a proper diet. For instance, eat foods rich in iron, magnesium, and vitamin B.
- Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
- Eat more fruit, but cut back on sugar and foods which contain high fructose syrup.
- Reduce your intake of caffeine, which is found primarily in coffee, energy drinks, tea, chocolate, and cocoa.
- Limit your alcohol intake, particularly in the evening.
- If your home has hard floors, soften the impact of your steps by wearing cushy slippers.
- Wear footwear that’s supportive of your arches.
- If you’re on an airplane or a lengthy car ride, stretch your legs frequently.
- Be proactive about controlling the amount of stress in your life, and you may be able to prevent restless leg syndrome.
Category: Sleep Disorders