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HomeHealth A-Z Restless Legs Syndrome
Restless Legs Syndrome
Restless Legs Syndrome
Patients report that the more they try to relax the worse the urges become to move and that the symptoms are more common during the evening hours.

Restless Legs Syndrome

Definition of Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless Legs Syndrome is a disorder of the nervous system that causes a feeling of uneasiness and restlessness in the legs resulting in an irresistible urge to move the legs.

Description of Restless Legs Syndrome

Often referred to as RLS or Wittmaack-Ekboms syndrome, Restless Legs Syndrome is not very well understood by patients or their doctors. Because the disease is not well understood it is often misdiagnosed, with many doctors refusing to consider the diagnosis at all. Restless Legs Syndrome is thought to be a neurological disorder, though doctors believe that the frequency of Restless Legs Syndrome is exaggerated due to the fact that there are now drugs on the market that are advertised to treat the condition, though the patients that suffer insist that the condition is very real and worthy of pharmacological treatment.

With Restless Legs Syndrome, there are urges by the patient to move his or her legs in an attempt to stop the very uncomfortable feelings. The sensation has been described as pain, tingling sensations, or like there is something crawling beneath the skin. Simply rubbing the legs is not enough to relieve the problem and many of those who are affected find that moving the legs will temporarily do away with the bothersome sensations. Unfortunately it seems that this is a progressive disease that can start any time and seems to become worse over time, though some have reported that the symptoms have gone away altogether over time.

Causes and Risk Factors of Restless Legs Syndrome

The cause of Restless Legs Syndrome is unknown, though it is thought by many to be a neurological condition. It seems that those at risk are those that spend a lot of time on their feet, those who have a family history of the disorder and in many instances those that are on other medications or those with any type of mental illness seem to be more prone to the disease than others. Despite not knowing the exact cause of the condition, 2.7% of the population in the United States is thought to be affected by the condition.

While the severity of the condition varies from person to person, it seems that those with PLMD or Periodic Limb Movement Disorder are more likely to be afflicted with RLS. In fact more than 80% of the patients who have PLMB have also been diagnosed with RLS. Those that have Periodic Limb Movement while waking are also very prone to developing the condition. For whatever reason, there is a lower incidence among those that live in India, Japan, and Singapore. This leads researchers to believe that ethnic background and even diet may play a role in who does and does not develop Restless Legs Syndrome.

Symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome

Most doctors have a difficult time listing the symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome because it varies from person to person and those that are affected have a difficult time putting the sensations into words. In medical handbooks and references the symptoms are generally listed as, “As urge to move, usually due to uncomfortable sensations that occur primarily in the legs.” Many patients describe the feelings in words like generally uncomfortable, antsy, electrical sensations, creepy crawly feelings under the skin, general pain, pins and needles, a pulling under the skin, ants or animals inside of the legs, and more.

What is not known by many is that the condition can affect any body part, not just the legs. Most patients will report the feelings in their legs, though the symptoms are often felt in the arms as well. Most patients report that moving will relieve the sensations for a moment, with waling and stretching providing the most relief. Patients universally report that the more they try to relax the worse the urges become to move and the incidence of the symptoms is more regular during the evening hours.

Diagnosis of Restless Legs Syndrome

To put the condition into context and to make the condition diagnosable by physicians, the National Institutes of Health has developed some criteria for diagnosing RLS. This criterion involves an urge to move the limbs with or without sensations. The urges to move get worse when the patient is resting and there is some temporary improvement when the patient begins to move or become active. The last criteria is that the condition or the symptoms seem to worsen or become more noticeable during the evening or nighttime hours.

Treatment of Restless Legs Syndrome

Treating RLS will require ruling out other conditions such as an iron deficiency, varicose veins, or thyroid disorders. When these conditions have been ruled out the doctor and the patient can consider pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments. There is not a cure for the condition and for the first time there are drugs coming out that are FDA certified and can do away with the sometimes annoying symptoms of the condition. Others find that simply taking a valium at bed time can help to reduce the symptoms and others still find that taking iron supplements helps to reduce the symptoms.

Patients that are diagnosed with RLS are also urged to review their lifestyle and see if there is anything that they can do to help reduce the symptoms. Patients are urged to begin exercising if they don’t already and also urged to do away with caffeine in the diet, smoking, and to limit the consumption of alcohol. It is also advisable to do away with foods that are high in sugar or sugar substitutes, and following a low fat diet is advisable and many times is helpful.

Some treatments can be as simple as exercising before bed, soaking feet in warm water before bed, or taking the mind off of the symptoms with a game, video game, or computer work up until the time for sleep.

Prevention of Restless Legs Syndrome

Right now there is not any means of preventing Restless Legs Syndrome as there is no known cause for the disorder. Individuals who lead a very healthy life, take vitamin supplements, and exercise daily seem to be affected less often than those who do not, but because there are genetic factors it is difficult to actually prevent the condition. Learning how to cope with the symptoms and avoid them altogether would then be key for those that do have a predisposition for Restless Legs Syndrome.

External Resources

National Institutes of Health

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute

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