American Hospital Blog

Restless legs syndrome

Restless legs syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) creates a compelling urge and uncontrollable sensation to move your legs that majorly occurs in the evening or nighttime hours while sitting or lying down. Moving the leg will temporarily lessen the bothersome feeling.

This condition of RLS, also called Willis-Ekbom disease, may begin at any age. It usually worsens as the person gets older, disrupting sleep, and hence, hindering daily activities. Generally, self-care steps and lifestyle changes will relieve the symptoms, and medications also help.

Understand the symptoms

A strong feeling to move the legs or feet is the main sign of this condition, which may come with other attributes like:

  • A sensation usually starts after rest - lying down or sitting for an extended period in a car, airplane, or movie theatre.
  • Relief from a sensation that happens after some movement, like stretching, walking, or shaking the legs
  • The condition gets worse in the evening and mainly at night.
  • And even nighttime leg twitching, called periodic limb movement of sleep, causing the legs to jerk and kick, probably throughout the night during sleep.

RLS symptoms are generally left on both sides of the body, and in some rare cases, the sensations affect the arms. People feel in the limb impressions like crawling, creeping, pulling, throbbing, aching, itching and electric, which usually gives them a desire to move their legs. The severity of the urge may fluctuate and even disappear for some time, then come back.

Consult the doctor

Talk to the doctor when you have signs of RLS, as it can disrupt sleep, causing daytime drowsiness and affecting the quality of life.

Know the causes

Although the actual cause of RLS remains unknown, researchers speculate it happens due to an imbalance of the brain chemical dopamine that sends messages to control muscle movement.

In many people, this condition is heredity - when you experience it before age 40, it runs in families. Pregnancy or hormonal changes can also temporarily worsen the situation, which generally disappears after delivery.

Recognize the risk

RLS occurs at any age, even in children, but the condition gets worse with increasing age and is often seen in women than in men.

Generally, RLS does not indicate a severe medical problem., but it may come with other conditions, like:

  • Peripheral neuropathy - damage to the nerves in hands and feet caused by chronic diseases like diabetes and alcoholism
  • Iron deficiency, even without anemia. It is common among people that have a history of bleeding from their stomach or bowels, have heavy menstrual periods, or repeatedly donate blood.
  • Kidney failure causes iron deficiency, often with anemia. In this condition, the kidneys don't function properly, decreasing the iron stores in the blood, worsening RLS.
  • Spinal cord injuries or damage are also linked to RLS. In conditions like a spinal block, anesthesia given to the spinal cord may also raise the risk of developing RLS.

Associated complexities

RLS doesn't indicate critical conditions, but its signs can be annoying to disabling, making it difficult to fall or stay asleep. RLS may disrupt napping, leading to excessive daytime drowsiness. In severe situations, RLS may lead to impairment in life quality and may lead to depression.

Measures for prevention

Some lifestyle changes can improve and relieve RLS, such as:

  • Soak legs in warm water and massaging them to relax the muscles.
  • Apply warm or cool packs alternatively to lessen the limb sensations.
  • Make sure to sleep in a relaxed, quiet, comfortable sleeping environment, get at least seven hours of night sleep, maintaining the same time to rest, and rise daily.
  • Do moderate but regular exercise that helps ease the symptoms, but never overdo it or work out too late as it may aggravate the symptoms.
  • Avoid caffeine and caffeine-containing products like chocolate, coffee, tea, and soft drinks, and use foot wraps that help relieve symptoms.

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