Sleep - Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

Difficult to diagnose, caused by various conditions, and defined by different symptoms, RLS can often be effectively treated.

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Restless Legs Syndrome is a condition which creates an uncomfortable feeling in the legs. These feelings tend to intensify when sitting or lying down. The only way an individual with this problem can make these uncomfortable feelings go away is by moving around. When the feelings occur during sleep, which is common, the person must first wake up and then move. Restless legs syndrome is considered a sleeping disorder because of the constant disruption of sleep which it can cause.

An uncomfortable feeling in the legs and arms is the most common symptom of RLS. These feelings can be difficult to describe, but sufferers know the feelings aren't cramps or pain in the muscles. RLS causes a tingling, prickling or burning sensation. Some claim their legs feel as if tiny bugs are crawling under the skin. These feelings are more prominent during nighttime and are brought about by inactivity. These symptoms can subside and then recur and can vary in intensity.

Involuntary leg flexing and extension is another symptom of RLS.

Called Periodic Limb Movements of Sleep (PLMS), most people with this problem aren't even aware of it because it occurs during sleep. PLMS does keep you from entering a deep sleep stage and can cause disrupted sleep for anyone else in the bed as well.

RLS appears to be associated with a release of the chemical dopamine which controls muscle movement. It may be hereditary since it occurs in the families of 50% of the sufferers. Stress and pregnancy can aggravate the symptoms. A deficiency of iron can also cause symptoms to appear as can nerves in the hands and feet that have become damaged because of alcoholism or diabetes.

RLS is difficult to diagnose for several reasons. First, the symptoms can actually be caused by a number of other conditions including stress, muscle cramps and nerves. Second, those with symptoms simply don't seek medical attention. However when RLS is suspected, diagnosis is made by evaluating the answers to a number of different questions your doctor will ask. These questions usually involve describing the feelings including their frequency and what makes them go away and describing your sleeping patterns. A visit to a sleep clinic where your sleep can be closely monitored is often used to help make a correct diagnosis.

Movement is the way most people treat restless leg syndrome. Walking, stretching, twitching and exercise are the types of movements most choose. However, if RLS is found to have an underlying cause such as an iron deficiency, treating that cause typically helps the symptoms of RLS fade away.

Lifestyle changes and medication are also commonly recommended treatments for the symptoms of RLS. Muscle relaxants, medicines to treat Parkinson's Disease and Epilepsy; antidepressants and opiods are commonly prescribed. Since these medications are originally designed to treat other medical conditions, their use as a treatment for RLS may have mixed results.

Non-prescription treatments for restless legs syndrome include over-the-counter pain relievers, hot or cool packs, massage, yoga, exercise and development of a sleep routine that encourages better sleep.

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Restless Legs Syndrome and Sleep
Page Updated 11:34 AM Tuesday, June 14, 2022