Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a disorder that causes an unpleasant sensation in the legs and a strong urge to move them. For many, this urge is intense at night or when they are trying to relax. RLS, also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is caused by a deficiency of iron in some parts of the brain. Health conditions like Parkinson’s disease, diabetes mellitus, and rheumatoid arthritis may increase the risk of developing restless leg syndrome.
RLS is categorized by healthcare practitioners as severe or mild — depending on how quickly the symptoms can be relieved, the severity of the symptoms, and the amount of disturbance caused. One study estimates that 1 in 10 people will experience some of the symptoms of RLS at some point in their life. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) report shows that about 10 percent of people living in the US have RLS.
RLS presently doesn’t have a cure, but its symptoms can be managed with certain medications and lifestyle changes.
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Types of Restless Leg Syndrome
Here are the types of restless leg syndrome:
Primary RLS: The cause of primary RLS is presently unknown. The symptoms of primary RLS are usually mild initially, but they may worsen over time. Here are some of its general characteristics:
- It can affect children
- Its cause may be linked to genetics
- It is a lifelong condition
- It begins before 40
Secondary RLS: RLS is classified as secondary when it is caused by another health condition. Most of the time, the symptoms spring up after the age of 45. Here are its characteristics:
- Symptoms may be more intense
- Symptoms don’t become prevalent, but they worsen over time
Health conditions that can cause RLS are:
- Kidney failure
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Iron deficiency
- Parkinson’s disease
Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome
The dominant symptom of RLS is a strong urge to move the legs. This urge is stronger when one is lying or sitting still. People with the condition sometimes experience a strange sensation in their legs. Its been described as itching, tingling, crawling, aching, and creeping.
RLS makes it difficult for many to fall and stay asleep. Not getting enough rest can make one tired and unable to concentrate when carrying out routine tasks. Studies suggest that lack of sleep may lead to depression, mood swings, and other health problems.
Diagnosis of Restless Leg Syndrome
To determine if you have RLS, your doctor will carry out a series of tests. Before any test is done, your doctor will first analyze your symptoms. The following must be present before your doctor can reach a conclusion that you have RLS:
- Strange sensation in legs
- Sensory symptoms are mild during the day but become severe at night
- Strong urge to move legs
- Symptoms are triggered when one sleeps or relaxes
Even if you are experiencing the above, your doctor may still carry out a physical exam. They will also check to see if you are experiencing the symptoms due to other neurological reasons.
Blood Test: This is done to check for deficiencies. Your blood will be examined by a specialist to see if you are iron deficient.
How to Treat Restless Leg Syndrome
Here are some ways RLS can be treated:
- Medications: The symptoms of RLS can be quelled by the following medications:
- Dopaminergic Agents: These are a group of medications that relaxes the leg muscles and reduce motion in the legs.
- Benzodiazepines: These drugs don’t address RLS directly. They help you sleep sounder.
- Opioids: These drugs help to reduce the strange sensation you feel in your legs. They can also help you relax and sleep well.
- Dietary Changes: While there isn’t any dietary guideline for people suffering from RLS, you must review your diet and ensure that you are getting enough nutrients. If you are iron deficient, you should promptly add foods rich in iron to your diet.
How to Manage Restless Leg Syndrome
Below are a few things you can do to help manage RLS:
- Exercise or engage in some form of physical activity daily
- Reduce your intake of caffeinated or alcoholic beverages
- Stretch your legs in the evening
- Take a hot bath before going to bed
- When should I consult a doctor about my RLS symptoms? Many people with RLS don’t seek medical attention because their symptoms are minimal. If your RLS prevents you from getting enough sleep or affects your quality of life, you should consult your doctor.
- What causes RLS? The cause of primary RLS is unknown. Secondary RLS is caused by underlying health conditions, like an iron deficiency.
Healthier Me Today is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment, always consult with your healthcare professional. Stay healthy!