What is Restless Leg Syndrome? Less commonly referred to as Willis-Ekbom Disease, Restless Leg Syndrome is an uncontrollable urge to move your legs, usually at night and typically because of an uncomfortable sensation in your limbs.
- Uncontrollable urge to move your legs
- Sensation beginning after rest
- Relief with movement
- Nighttime leg twitching
Many sufferers describe the feeling in their legs as crawling, creeping, pulling, throbbing, aching, itching and electric shock type of sensations
Symptoms usually occur in both legs, and are much less common in the arms. While movement relieves symptoms, restless leg syndrome may cause patients to pace all night, or toss and turn all night, which may disrupt both their own and their partners sleep.
Due to the nature of Restless Leg Syndrome, the most serious side effects include insomnia, depression, memory problems, trouble concentrating and irritability.
Causes of Restless Leg Syndrome
Currently there is no known single cause however, researchers suspect the condition may be caused by an imbalance of the brain chemical dopamine, which sends messages to control muscle movement.
Heredity may be involved as Restless Leg Syndrome runs in families, particularly if the onset of symptoms occurs before age 40.
The hormonal changes with pregnancy may trigger or worsen symptoms, although Restless Leg Syndrome may disappear after delivery if it’s a new condition.
Restless Leg Syndrome occurs most commonly in women, and with increasing age. Other conditions that are often seen in patients inlude:
- Peripheral neuropathy,
- Iron deficiency,
- Kidney failure and spinal cord conditions
80% of sufferers have a related condition called periodic limb movement of sleep (PLMS) which causes legs to twitch or jerk during sleep. This may happen every 15 – 40 seconds and continue all night long.
How to get a diagnosis:
Visit a doctor who will take a detailed medical history, and perform a physical and neurological exam. Blood tests may be performed, specifically to test for iron deficiencies. A referral to a sleep specialist may be called for, although this is not always absolutely necessary for diagnosis.
Treating underlying conditions such as iron deficiency greatly helps, although it is important to not take an iron supplement without medical supervision and without the appropriate blood tests being performed.
Some prescription medicines may help with the symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome. Some options may be a dopamine increasing medication, calcium channel blockers, opioids, muscle relaxants and sleep medications. Of course, these options are not without risks and side effects including.
- Impulse control disorders, such as gambling
- Daytime sleepiness
These prescription options may work initially, however over time they may become ineffective, or even cause symptoms to onset earlier in the day.
Taking Charge of Restless Leg Syndrome
You can help yourself with lifestyle and diet changes.
Some simple steps to start with are:
- Avoiding caffeine and alcohol.
- Getting regular exercise early in the day may help, be sure not to practice intense exercise too close to your bedtime.
- Take warm baths, or some people like to alternate warm and cool packs on the legs before sleep. Stretch and massage your legs before bed.
- Eat a diet rich in iron and vitamin C which includes dark leafy greens, peas, dried fruit, red meat/poultry/seafood, citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers and broccoli.
Practice good sleep hygiene, examples include:
- investing in comfy bedding, including your mattress and pillows along with linens.
- Sleep with a pillow between your legs.
- Remove electronics, including televisions, cell phones and anything with a screen from the bedroom.
- Remove clutter from the room.
- Invest in room darkening window coverings.
- Establishing a sleep schedule is also helpful.
It’s important to seek help from support groups, trusted health care professionals and to share with your friends and family to help develop coping mechanisms.