Everything You Need To Know About Restless Leg Syndrome

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Have you ever felt like you just had to move around, even when you wanted to do nothing more than sleep? This restless feeling could be due to a number of different factors, including stress, your caffeine intake, or even just a strange burst of motivation.

However, if you can rule out all those factors and you still find the urge to move despite your lack of energy, then what could this mean?

restless legs

If you find yourself compelled to constantly be on the move, especially during the night, then you may be suffering from restless leg syndrome or RLS for short.

We will take a look at what exactly this syndrome is, its various symptoms, and restless leg syndrome causes down below.

What is Restless Leg Syndrome?

Restless leg syndrome is otherwise known as RLS or Willis-Ekbom disease in honor of the sleep medicine researchers Sir Thomas Willis and Karl-Axel Ekbom who studied this phenomenon.

It’s a neurological condition characterized by the almost uncontrollable urge to move your legs while at rest. Because this desire to move your legs mostly occurs at night, RLS is also categorized as a sleep disorder.

The symptoms of RLS can interfere with your normal sleep pattern, making you more prone to insomnia or other sleep disorders.

Lack of sleep can also cause a wide variety of other problems that could affect your ability to focus or could negatively impact your overall health.

Although the syndrome usually refers to the legs, RLS can also affect your arms, head, torso, or other parts of your body. In fact, this is one of the reasons why physicians are starting to move away from the usage of “restless leg syndrome” and instead refer to this condition solely as “Willis-Ekbom disease.”

rls

Sir Thomas Willis’ studies compared RLS patients to those who seem as if they are undergoing the greatest torture, moving their limbs or whole bodies wildly around as they slept.

Karl-Axel Ekbom was the first to mistakenly call this condition “restless leg syndrome,” though he is also responsible for discovering many of the symptoms of RLS.

Types of RLS

There are two types of RLS: primary and secondary. Those who suffer from primary RLS, also referred to as idiopathic RLS, typically show symptoms slowly and before the age of 40-45.

This type usually has a genetic link, and has the tendency to come and go throughout the patient’s life or may even grow worse with age.

Secondary RLS is typically the result of another medical condition or a side effect from taking certain medicines. This type appears without warning, and symptoms of this type can show up in a person of any age, ethnicity, or gender.

RLS can begin at any age, though it seems to be most common in women over 40. Approximately 10% of all adults in America suffer from RLS.

Unfortunately, in about two-thirds of people, the condition is progressive and may eventually grow severe enough to be disabling.

Getting Diagnosed

It is often underdiagnosed due to physicians or other health care professionals not being able to find a physical cause for your discomfort.

Some doctors do not even believe that this is a real condition, and will thus diagnose you with some other sleep disorder or condition.

If this is the case, you may ask for a second opinion or bring up your symptoms with your doctor to confirm if you do indeed suffer from RLS.

It may also help to keep track of your symptoms and when they occur by keeping a journal that you can then show your doctor.

There is no specific medical test doctors can use to diagnose this condition, but there are four main criteria that they use instead.

Here’s a video explaining a little more on restless leg syndrome.

Symptoms

Of course, the primary symptom of RLS is the overwhelming urge to move your legs, which is nearly impossible to resist when you are resting.

Sometimes, as a result of not moving them, you will feel a number of unpleasant sensations, including anything from a creeping, crawling, cramping, itching, pulling, or tugging sensation both along your skin and within your legs themselves.

If you notice that moving around helps relieve these symptoms, then this is not the cure, but is instead another, more definite sign that you may indeed be suffering from RLS. You cannot always be on the move, even if it helps you feel better for the time being.

If these symptoms tend to crop up more at night or you wake up your partner with sudden, jerky leg movements (known as periodic leg movements, or PLM) even after moving around, then you indeed have RLS. You may also be experiencing involuntary leg movements throughout your day as well.

These symptoms all lie on a spectrum, with some experiencing only mild forms of this condition while others may suffer from more debilitating forms of RLS.

Typically, symptoms only tend to worsen as time without seeking help or treatment goes on. If your symptoms are particularly bothersome or severe, you should always seek help from your doctor or physician.

The four criteria listed above are the basis for any RLS diagnosis, and from there, your doctor will try to determine which type you may be suffering from.

Restless Leg Syndrome Causes

Predisposition

Unfortunately, there is no exact cause for either type of RLS. Primary RLS is especially notorious for this.

Even if you may have a family history of this condition, the progenitor of RLS in your family may not know why or even what they are dealing with either.

Diseases and Conditions

Secondary RLS is a little easier to diagnose because there are more risk factors leading up to it.

what is restless leg syndrome

People who suffer from peripheral neuropathy, varicose veins, low iron levels, kidney failure, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes mellitus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases are more likely to develop RLS as well.

Pregnancy

About 1 in 5 pregnant women are also likely to develop RLS in the third trimester and may continue to show symptoms long after childbirth.

ADHD

There has also been a link between those who have ADHD and those who suffer from RLS, due to the fact that both conditions are linked to the dysfunction of dopamine levels in their brains.

Research into this avenue is still relatively new, however, and not many studies have been conducted about this link, though a 2005 study did find that 44% of ADHD patients also suffered from some form of RLS as well.

Medication

RLS may also be caused by taking certain medications such as antihistamines, metoclopramide, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and calcium channel blockers.

RLS might be the result of a rebound from taking one of these medications or could be a simple hidden side effect of taking the medications themselves.

However, again, not much research has gone into this, so the idea that RLS is solely caused by taking these medications is a tentative one.

Surgery or Injuries

Both types seem to become worsened after having surgery of any kind, though it is typically back surgeries or injuries that can offset RLS.

Caffeine or Alcohol

Sometimes the overconsumption of substances such as caffeine or alcohol can be the cause of RLS. This does make sense as caffeine is a stimulant or a type of drug that makes you feel energized.

restless legs at night

While alcohol is typically categorized as a depressant or a type of drug that makes you feel more relaxed, you may also experience some stimulant-like effects when consuming an excess amount at one time.

Varicose Veins

In a recent study, physicians have found that up to 98% of patients found relief from RLS by treating their varicose veins, or veins that possess unhealthy valves.

These valves in our veins help to ensure our blood flows all through our body cleanly and smoothly. When these valves fail or start to leak, it can make your blood fall back through your veins, thus letting it pool in certain areas of your body.

This will eventually make those parts, where the blood pools, look enlarged, twisted, or bulged.

Due to varicose vein patients appearing to share symptoms with those who suffer from RLS, scientists have found a link between the two conditions and have developed a successful treatment that alleviates the symptoms of both.

How to Sleep with Restless Leg Syndrome

It may seem impossible to sleep with restless legs at night. After all, they are called “restless” for a reason, right?

Well, there are a few ways to at least stave off the symptoms during the night that you can try out.

Lifestyle Changes

Implementing some lifestyle changes can be an effective start in countering this condition. These include:

  • Reducing your caffeine and alcohol intake,
  • Taking iron supplements or implementing more foods with iron into your diet
  • Creating a rigid exercise plan that you follow every day
  • Forming good sleeping habits
  • Finding intensive hobbies that will occupy your mind while you rest, and
  • Regularly following up with your doctor or physician

These are all good methods for countering your RLS symptoms at night – if you lie on the milder part of the spectrum.

Activities that may help relieve your symptoms include:

  • Walking
  • Massaging your legs in the morning and right before you go to sleep
  • Doing light stretches before you go to sleep or rest
  • Pressing either hot or cold packs (though not both at once) to your legs
  • Practicing relaxing exercises such as meditation, Pilates, or yoga, or
  • Acupressure

Foot Wraps

You may also choose to use a specially-made foot wrap to help relieve symptoms. Foot wraps target certain foot muscles that will then deliver signals to the brain to let them relax.

restless leg syndrome causes

Many patients found that their symptoms began to significantly decrease, granting them much better sleep at night and thus providing them with more energy to exercise or function the next day.

Foot wraps are often prescribed by doctors and physicians for those who suffer from RLS or other foot issues.

Remember, people who suffer from RLS are on a spectrum in terms of how severely they will experience it.

Some may find these treatments helpful, while others may need more complex treatments for their condition.

Medications

There are three drugs your doctor may also prescribe you if you suffer from moderate to severe RLS: Horizant, Mirapex, and Requip.

Requip is typically given to patients who suffer from Parkinson’s disease, but lower doses have also been approved for use in treating RLS.

These three drugs may cause side effects such as sleepiness, nausea, and dizziness. The sleepiness may occur suddenly and without warning, even if you are in the middle of important activities, so make sure you take them with the utmost caution.

Always be sure to talk to your doctor if you experience any of these side effects and see if there are other treatment options available for you to try.

Is There a Cure for RLS?

While there is no surefire cure for restless legs, there are many treatment options out there that can help alleviate your symptoms.

If the treatment plans listed above do not alleviate your symptoms at all, however, then you may want to look into non-surgical sclerotherapy.

This is the vein treatment with the 98% relief rate discussed above. Physicians have found that many of their patients’ symptoms were relieved after this procedure.

The best part about this treatment is that it is nonsurgical, so you do not have to deal with post-surgery recovery time or pain.

You would have to spend an hour with a phlebologist, which is a medical specialist who works with veins specifically, so be sure you clear out enough time in your schedule to get this procedure done.

The sclerotherapy is relatively painless, and you can even walk normally and go about your daily activities afterward.

Here’s a video showing some natural treatments for restless legs.

Conclusion

Restless leg syndrome is quite the pain to deal with, especially if your symptoms tend to be on the more severe end of the spectrum.

Still, with all these treatment options available for you, relief may not be as far-fetched a dream as you may think. Try out some of these tips and see if they help alleviate your symptoms.


What are your tips for dealing with RLS?

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