Restless Legs Syndrome
What Is Restless Legs Syndrome?
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a sensory disorder causing an almost irresistible urge to move the legs. The urge to move is usually due to unpleasant feelings in the legs that occur when at rest. People with RLS use words such as creeping, crawling, tingling, or burning to describe these feelings. Moving the legs eases the feelings, but only for a while. The unpleasant feelings may also occur in the arms.
Effects of RLS
RLS can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. People with RLS often don’t get enough sleep and may feel tired and sleepy during the day. This can make it difficult to:
Not getting enough sleep can also make you feel depressed or have mood swings.
RLS can range from mild to severe, based on:
Types of RLS
There are two types of RLS:
Periodic Limb Movement Disorder
Most people with RLS also have a condition called periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD). PLMD is a condition in which a person’s legs twitch or jerk uncontrollably about every 10 to 60 seconds. This usually happens during sleep. These movements cause repeated awakenings that disturb or reduce sleep. PLMD usually affects the legs but can also affect the arms.
RLS can be unpleasant and uncomfortable. However, there are some simple self-care approaches and lifestyle changes that can help in mild cases. RLS symptoms often improve with medical treatment. Research is ongoing to better understand the causes of RLS and to develop better treatments.
What Causes Restless Legs Syndrome?
In most cases of restless legs syndrome (RLS), no cause can be found. When no cause can be found, the condition is called primary RLS. It is known, however, that primary RLS tends to run in families. People whose parents have RLS are more likely to develop the disorder. This suggests that there may be a genetic link that increases the chance of getting RLS.
Secondary RLS is RLS that is caused by another disease or condition, or as a side effect of certain medications. Some of the diseases and conditions that can cause RLS are:
RLS is common in pregnant women. It usually occurs during the last 3 months of pregnancy and usually improves or disappears within a few weeks after delivery. However, some women may continue to have symptoms after giving birth or may develop RLS again later in life.
Some of the types of medicines that can cause RLS are:
RLS symptoms usually go away when the medicine is stopped.
Certain substances can trigger RLS symptoms or make them worse. These substances include:
Who Is At Risk for Restless Legs Syndrome?
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) may affect as many as 12 million people in the United States.
RLS affects both men and women. The disorder occurs more often in women than in men.
The number of cases of RLS rises with age. Many people with RLS are diagnosed in middle age. But in up to two out of every five cases, the symptoms of RLS begin before age 20. People who develop RLS early in life usually have a family history of the disorder.
RLS can affect people of any race or ethnic group. The disorder is more common in persons of northern European descent.
RLS is common in pregnant women. It usually occurs during the last 3 months of pregnancy and usually improves or disappears within a few weeks after delivery.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome?
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) has several major signs and symptoms:
Urge To Move
RLS gets its name from the urge to move the legs when sitting or lying down. This urge is due to unpleasant feelings in the legs that are relieved by movement. Typical movements are:
The urge to move the legs usually is due to unpleasant feelings in the legs. People with RLS describe these feelings as:
Children may describe RLS symptoms differently than adults.
The unpleasant feelings in RLS usually occur in the lower leg (calf). But the feelings can occur at any place between the thigh and the ankle and also in the arm. The feelings are worse:
The unpleasant feelings also:
Duration and Severity
RLS symptoms tend to get worse over time. They may begin in childhood and develop slowly over several years. People with early symptoms are more likely to have other family members with RLS than people who develop RLS later in life.
Symptoms tend to worsen faster when RLS occurs later in life. RLS that occurs later in life is also more likely to result from an underlying condition or illness than RLS that occurs early in life.
People with mild symptoms may only notice them when they are still or awake for a long time, such as on a long airplane trip.
How Is Restless Legs Syndrome Diagnosed?
The way that you describe your symptoms is very important in diagnosing restless legs syndrome (RLS). Your doctor will:
The diagnosis of RLS usually requires the following four conditions be present:
Your doctor will take a medical history and ask questions such as:
Your doctor will also ask about your sleep habits, such as:
Your doctor will ask about how you feel during the day, including whether:
Your doctor will ask questions to find out if your symptoms are a result of a possible underlying condition. Questions might include:
A physical exam is done to:
Your doctor also will pay special attention to:
There is no test currently available to diagnose RLS.
However, blood tests can be used to look for underlying conditions that can cause RLS. These tests check for:
How Is Restless Legs Syndrome Treated?
The goals of treatment for restless legs syndrome (RLS) are to:
Types of treatment include:
Lifestyle changes can improve and relieve symptoms of RLS. Lifestyle changes may be the only treatment needed for mild RLS. Some lifestyle changes that may help include:
Other activities that also may help relieve symptoms include:
Medicines can help relieve some symptoms of RLS. Doctors prescribe medicines to treat RLS in people:
No single medicine is helpful in all persons with RLS. It may take several changes in medicines and dosages to find the best approach. Sometimes, a medicine will work for a while and then stop working.
Some medicines may not be safe for pregnant women.
Always talk with your doctor before taking any medicines, even over-the-counter medicines.
Medicines used to treat Parkinson’s disease also are used to treat RLS. Even though these medicines help reduce RLS symptoms, RLS is not a form of Parkinson’s disease. The medicines help reduce the amount of motion in the legs. They include:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved ropinirole to treat moderate to severe RLS.
Other medicines may be used to treat RLS, including:
Above courtesy of NHLBI
Below - original contribution.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS)is a condition in which the individual has a strong, often uncontrollable urge to move their legs. This is brought on by undefined sensations in the legs that many sufferers have difficulty explaining in comparison to other sensations. It has been described as feelings of electric currents running through the legs, prickling, itching or burning sensations, tingling, and on occasion is brought on by no concrete sensation at all.
Though the syndrome is largely confined to the legs, some people may also experience it in the arms, or in very rare cases, other areas of the body. It is typically worse at night, and often strikes while lying in bed, but can occur at any time, usually during periods of inactivity such as long stretches of travel, watching T.V, or out at the theatre or a concert where you are seated for long stretches.
Its occurrence just before or during sleep can severely hamper quality sleep time, as many people are prone to suffer through it in bed, alternating between sleep and wakefulness brought on by the sensations, and hope it goes away rather than get up and walk around to try and eliminate it. Severe cases on RLS can cut quality sleep time in half.
Despite this, RLS remains largely misunderstood by doctors, who have had difficulty both in classifying and diagnosing it. There is some debate other whether restless legs syndrome is even its own legitimate entity, or if it should rather fall under another broader category such as being classified as a sympathetic nervous system (SNS) response, similar to the feeling of the hair on the back of your neck rising, or getting ‘goosebumps’ not caused by external factors. These are generally felt in reaction to the mindset of the individual. This relating of RLS and SNS is not widely accepted though.
Most people report immediate relief by getting up and moving about or stretching, and others have said drinking water calms its effects, leading some doctors to theorize that dehydration may play a part in its appearance. Some people may experience RLS frequently, while others will experience it sporadically or rarely. Some people may even go years between episodes of RLS. In most cases, the RLS will become more frequent over time though.
Approximately 2.5% of adults have RLS on a fairly regular basis, and as many as 10% of adults experience it occasionally, or have in the past. Higher incidence rates are found among those with family members who have also had RLS, as high as 40%. The syndrome has been found to be rare in many Asian countries which could indicate that diet or other factors, such as genetic makeup may play a role in the occurrence of restless legs syndrome. RLS can also strike children, and is often misdiagnosed as either ‘growing pains’ in young teens, or hyperactivity in younger kids. RLS also has a much higher incidence rate in females than in males.
RLS is also highly tied to periodic limb movements (PLM), with 85% of those with RLS also having incidences of PLM. PLM is undesired flexing or tightening of the leg muscles, which can be painful in some cases. It can also come in the form of automatic movements of the legs, which can’t be controlled. PLM and RLS symptoms may appear together at the same time, but are more likely to appear separately on different occasions.
Mild RLS occurrence has been tied directly to other medical conditions, and usually disappears after the associated condition is cleared up. These include pregnancy, kidney disease, iron deficiency and any conditions that cause low levels of iron, peripheral neuropathy and some medications, including anti-nausea and depressant medications.
Someone suffering regular occurrences of RLS, especially during bedtime should consult a doctor. The doctor can have a blood test taken to check your iron levels, and may be able to suggest other factors that could be contributing to your occurrence rate of RLS.
There are a few medical treatments for RLS. Those with low iron levels, or one of the medical conditions above that may be causing it, may be encouraged to remedy these problems. This may include a balanced exercise regimen (not too much, or too little, as both can aggravate RLS), decreasing or eliminating caffeine, tobacco and alcohol consumption, and improving general diet with supplements like potassium, magnesium and calcium. As alluded to, iron replacement has been demonstrated to improve symptoms in many.
Dopamine agonist medications have demonstrated much success in the treatment of RLS.
Other activities that may help symptoms include taking a hot baths, soaking feet in hot water near bed time, keeping your mind engrossed or busy while physically inactive, placing a pillow or other object between your legs while you sleep, and drinking green tea.