Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) may have a “cute” name and – at first glance – it may have nothing to do with sleep, but it is indeed one of the most persistent and irritating sleep disorders, on account of the symptoms it generates.
Is there anything you can do to alleviate these symptoms? Can Restless Leg Syndrome be cured? Who is most likely to develop the condition? All that and more answered below.
What is Restless Legs Syndrome?
Currently classified as a disorder of the nervous system, Restless Legs Syndrome is indeed a peculiar condition. By generating uncomfortable sensations in the legs (and sometimes other body parts) of the sufferer, it compels her/him to move her/his legs.
Restless Legs Syndrome is much more common in women than men, and it usually rears its head from middle age onward, though that does not mean that it cannot appear in young girls too.
The above said “uncomfortable sensations” are comprised of itches, pinpricks and various crawling feelings. The intensity of these sensations ranges from the mildly annoying to the unbearable.
These problems are apparently the worst when the sufferer is sitting or lying down.
What’s worse still, is that the sensations are amplified in the evening or at night.
The above makes it clear that while it has no direct links to sleep, Restless Leg Syndrome does indeed cause sleep disruption, which – over the long run – can become quite debilitating for the sufferer, in terms of sleep as well as overall quality of life.
The exact science behind RLS is not currently clear, which means that its diagnosis can be very difficult (as it is mostly based on the elimination of other conditions that might trigger the same symptoms) and its treatment is sort of hit or miss as well.
What are the causes of restless leg syndrome?
As I stated above, the exact causes of Restless Legs Syndrome are not currently known. Doctors have their suspicions, but there is no scientifically accepted explanation to why this condition strikes the people that it does.
Genetics definitely have a role in its development. People who suffer from RLS tend to have at least one family member who also struggles with the condition.
Other than that, only a few factors that may help with the triggering of the symptoms or the worsening of the condition, can be served up causes-wise.
In this regard, chronic diseases and the acute lack of certain minerals and trace elements, have to be brought into the picture. A chronic iron deficiency can be a major aggravating factor, together with a slew of diseases, such as Parkinson’s, peripheral neuropathy and diabetes. Those who suffer from these illnesses will usually have their RLS symptoms relieved by effective treatment of the underlying condition.
Certain medications are also known to make the symptoms of RLS more severe. In this regard, you should keep your eye on antidepressants in general, on various antinausea solutions and even on allergy-aimed medications, especially those that contain antihistamines.
Pregnancy is thought to be one of the factors that can bring about RLS syndrome, especially during its later stages. RLS issues triggered by pregnancy tend to go away on their own after delivery though.
Sleep deprivation, alcohol use and smoking have never done anyone any good, so it is not exactly surprising that they too can contribute to the worsening of your RLS symptoms.
What triggers restless leg syndrome?
While – as said above – the scientifically substantiated triggers of RLS are unknown, if you suffer from the condition, over time you’ll learn your own personal triggers. Knowing these triggers is indeed very important when it comes to the management and even treatment of the condition.
Restless Leg Syndrome triggers can cover an impressively wise range of activities, positions, medications and other chemical factors.
As mentioned above, certain medications will trigger bouts of RLS. I’ve given you a rundown of some of the risk factors in this regard above, but at the end of the day, you’ll have to figure it out for yourself of which medications you need to steer well clear.
Alcohol, caffeine and smoking and lack of sleep are also possible triggers – as mentioned above. The presence of sleep deprivation on this list is especially perverted, given how it is a product of RLS, and as such, it becomes part of a vicious, self-intensifying circle, that can indeed make the life of a RLS sufferer hell.
Sitting still for significant periods of time (like at the movies or during a longer flight) can also be a possible trigger. Such extended periods of sitting produce a number of adverse physical effects in one’s body (especially in the legs) which can then trigger an existing but dormant condition such as RLS.
Stress and temperature are two other possible triggers. Refined sugar has to be mentioned here as well. Try to steer clear of it: it too is generally bad for your overall health anyway.
Sensitivity to certain types of fabrics and clothing cannot be disregarded either. Make your observations in this regard and avoid clothing that may have given you bouts of RLS in the past.
How do you know if you have Restless Leg Syndrome?
I already described the symptoms above, although I may not have been specific enough.
The symptom most commonly associated with RLS is the need/urge to move. This urge may be associated with unpleasant feelings described as creepy-crawly, pinprick-like or even painful. Inactivity usually worsens the symptoms while moving relieves them. The range of motions which can bring relief to RLS is rather wide. It includes the rubbing of the legs, walking, pacing, jiggling the legs and even stretching and flexing.
RLS sufferers may also find relief at night by tossing and turning in bed. This sort of behavior will obviously result in lost sleep though. This is where Periodic Limb Movement comes into the picture too. Caused by RLS, this phenomenon keeps pestering sufferers, even in their sleep. It causes the twitching and jerking of limbs in 10-60 second intervals, which will often result in the rousing of the sufferer, whose sleep quality further deteriorates due to this issue.
In regards to the pain part of the symptom equation: it has to be noted that RLS-induced pain is not sharp. It is more of a dull ache.
RLS-related symptoms usually rear their heads in the calves/lover leg. They can however be present in the thighs as well as the arms.
What can you do for restless leg syndrome?
While the condition itself cannot be cured, its symptoms can be managed/minimized, and in some cases, it is quite easy to deal with them.
It is important to be aware of the fact that in and of itself, RLS does not cause health problems. Most of its ill-effects are due to the sleep disorder its symptoms indirectly cause.
Some of the best ways to deal RLS a blow are linked to lifestyle changes.
Exactly what can you do in this regard?
Make use of time you would spend relaxing, to give your legs a massage. You can do that while watching TV, or if you spend a lot of time sitting at work: there and then.
Take hot baths. They are great for relaxing and they do seem to relieve RLS’ symptoms too.
Interestingly, sometimes ice packs seem to do the trick as well. They’re certainly worth a try too.
As I stated above, sometimes RLS may result from iron deficiency. Do not self-medicate in this regard. Tell your doctor about your condition and ask for qualified advice.
Since the most harmful effect of RLS is sleep deprivation, do everything you possibly can to ensure a good night’s sleep. Stick to a healthy sleep schedule, avoid caffeine, alcohol and other chemical factors that might interfere with healthy sleep.
Avoiding napping during the day can be helpful too. If you get drowsy during the afternoon, get up instead of taking a nap or drinking coffee, move around a little and give your legs a good rub-down.
Up the amount of exercise you get during the week. Mild RLS symptoms can often be eliminated through proper exercise. By proper, I mean moderate. Moderate exercise is what you’re looking for here, as a far too vigorous approach can have an effect contrary to the desired one, and worsen your symptoms.
If you are forced into a passive, sitting position by the circumstances (you’re taking a long business flight for instance), try to get up and move about as often as you possibly can. With that in mind, requesting an aisle seat is always a good idea.
What is best for restless leg syndrome?
The above discussed symptom-management measures double as your first line of Restless Legs Syndrome treatment. If you are on some sort of medication, bring it up with your doctor and review every one of the drugs involved, in relation to RLS.
If you happen to have some sort of underlying medical condition, you will have to sort it out. In this regard, special attention needs to be paid to anemia, various nutrition-related deficiencies, Parkinson’s, thyroid disease, kidney problems, diabetes and varicose veins.
Various vitamin deficiencies, such as vitamin D, have to be considered as well.
If your RLS is the result of one of the above mentioned underlying medical conditions, through the effective treatment of this condition, chances are indeed good that you will get rid of RLS too.
If all else fails, there are medications used for the treatment of RLS. In this regard, obviously, only a doctor can hand down verdicts and actual prescriptions.
Opiates are used to treat pain and they sometimes prove useful for the management of RLS symptoms too. This treatment path is not a sustainable one though, since opiates are indeed highly addictive.
Anticonvulsants address nerve pain as well as chronic pain. As such, they too can be used to alleviate RLS symptoms.
Other substance classes used for RLS treatment are dopamine agonists (these are in fact the most commonly used drugs), dopaminergic agents and sedatives belonging in the category of benzodiazepines. Alpha2 agonists are used with the goal of simply turning off the section of the nervous system responsible with involuntary muscle movements.
As you can plainly see, the drug-based treatment of RLS is no walk in the park. The substances used elicit a variety of alarming effects and side effects, and as such, they should only be called upon as a last-resort solution.
What are the best supplements for restless legs syndrome?
When it comes to supplements meant to address RLS, iron is the number one contender. Doctors suspect that there is a link between iron deficiency and RLS, and therefore iron is the most commonly recommended and used supplement for the condition.
In addition to iron, folate, magnesium and diosmin are used as well.
Experimental therapies are done with vitamin C and E, near-infrared light and C-ribose.