Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

By | December 22, 2020 | |

Also known as Willis-Ekbom disease (WED), restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder in which a person experiences discomforting sensations in their legs, making them want to move or fidget repeatedly. These sensations are even more intense during the time the person is trying to fall asleep or is asleep. Thus, this is the most serious and common concern for people with restless legs syndrome. 

RLS coupled with sleep deprivation can cause many health problems and put you at risk for developing mental health disorders such as depression. 

Moreover, around 80% of the people who are diagnosed with restless leg syndrome have another related condition called periodic limb movements of sleep which further disrupts their sleep cycle and adds to the sleep deprivation and interferes with their daily activities. At times, doctors may have difficulties diagnosing restless legs syndrome when the symptoms are milder. However, once recognized by the patient and diagnosed by a professional, a treatment plan can help reduce the symptoms to a minimum level and help the client live their life as fully and wholly as possible. 

Signs and Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome 

The most prominent symptoms of restless leg syndrome involve the persisting urge to move one’s legs and the sensations of tingling, crawling, pulling, etc. You might also itch and feel the need to scratch your legs, sense a vexating throbbing sensation in your limbs, feel something creep up and down your legs, and these sensations can also at times get painful, making you ache. Often, you may feel a surge of energy or electricity in your lower limbs, making you want to kick, wriggle, or squirm. 

These symptoms are characterized by:

  • Sensations that begin once you’re in bed, or are in a resting position i.e are seated or lying down, or are about to fall asleep: The above mentioned sensations of tingling, pulling, crawling, scratching, etc. begin spontaneously whenever your body is in a resting state. You might be watching a movie in the theatre, attending a meeting at the office, driving a car or about to fall asleep when these sensations happen. Thus, restless legs syndrome can be a condition that disrupts your daily functioning to the point that you may become unwilling to carry out your regular tasks. Also, these sensations can happen anywhere in the body. 
  • Symptoms tend to worsen during the evening time: Restless legs syndrome symptoms occur during the nighttime when you become more relaxed and tired after the day’s work. 
  • A sense of relief after moving or shaking the legs: Once you move the legs, you might feel a sense of relief for a while and the sensations might pause for a few minutes. However, more often than not, these sensations begin to happen again very quickly, and again, they come with an overpowering urge to shift, turn or move.
  • The nighttime twitching of the legs can cause you to kick or forcefully move your legs during the sleep, and this can cause you to wake up and disrupt your sleep. 

Restless Leg Syndrome Causes

There is no known cause for this condition, like so many other mental or physical health conditions. However, some risk factors and predisposing aspects can increase the likelihood of you developing this condition, or explain why you have it. Some studies point to a suspicion that these sensations might be caused due to an imbalance of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is responsible for sending signals for muscular movement control. Yet again, this has not yet been entirely proven to be an exact cause for restless legs syndrome. Some of the risk factors are as follows: 

Genes: Restless legs syndrome can run in families as some researchers have identified spots on the chromosomes where some genes might be responsible for the development of RLS. 

Bearing a child: Hormonal changes, especially the kind that happen during pregnancy in the last trimester, may worsen the restless legs syndrome symptoms. 

Kidney problems: Big changes in the body chemistry can cause restless legs syndrome. 

Nerve damage in hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy): This might be a causal factor for RLS and it may be due to diabetes or alcoholism. 

Anemia or iron deficiency: This can cause or worsen RLS. 

Lesions on the spinal cord: Spinal cord conditions have been associated with RLS numerous times. 

Restless Leg Syndrome Diagnosis

The diagnosis for restless leg syndrome begins with a medical examination which a doctor may take. You must visit a doctor first if you’re experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms. A medical examination would rule out any possibility of an underlying medical cause which would require a different route of treatment than the kind other therapeutic interventions provide. Neurological, physical examinations may be a part of this as well as some blood tests. Later, the diagnosis for RLS would resume and your medical health professional would assess you on the basis of the diagnostic criteria established by the International Restless Leg Syndrome Study Group. Additionally, the doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist who will study your sleep patterns. This may involve an overnight stay at their clinic. 

Restless Leg Syndrome Treatment

The treatment for restless legs syndrome involves the use of medication, including requip, neupro and mirapex to help create a chemical balance of dopamine levels in the brain. Medications that affect the calcium channels and narcotic medications such as opioids are also used for reducing the symptoms greatly. Muscle relaxants and sleep medication also help with the sleep problems such as insomnia and parasomnia that RLS can induce. 

Home Remedies and Alternatives For Reducing Symptoms

Home remedies are unlikely to entirely eliminate restless legs syndrome symptoms, however, they can prove to be really helpful. In fact, patients are often insisted to go for such lifestyle habits as they aid with making the treatment more effective. They are as follows: 

  • Try taking hot water baths and massages regularly. This will help you relax the muscles and release the excess tension from  your legs. 
  • Try to keep your sleep schedule as consistent as possible. Wake up and go to bed at the same time each day, and do not stay on your phone or work on your laptop or other devices on the bed before going to sleep. 
  • Practice yoga and meditation regularly. 
  • Exercise. We cannot stress this enough; regular exercise is an essential part of mental and physical fitness. 
  • Warm or cold compress when you feel the symptoms. An ice pack or a heating pack would do for the same. 
  • Stretch your muscles in the evening. 
  • Avoid caffeine and eliminate the foods and beverages that contain caffeine at all costs.

Frequently Asked Questions About Restless Legs Syndrome

Yes, it’s true that dehydration has a correlation with the intensity of the symptoms of RLS. It can be aggravated by lack of water intake. Also, diuretics like caffeine sources and alcohol also add to the dehydration and in turn make the symptoms worse. So, keeping hydrated and limiting such substances is advised.

Q. Is restless legs syndrome a nervous system disorder?

Also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, restless legs syndrome is a nervous system disorder that causes an overpowering urge to move one’s legs. Doctors tend to consider it as a sleep disorder as well because it gets worse or triggered when the affected is at rest or is trying to fall asleep.

Q. Can RLS go away on its own?

While, there are some cases of restless legs syndrome disappearing on its own, for most the symptoms tend to get worse over time. It can be caused by a medical condition, in which case the treatment of the ailment can help improve their RLS.

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