What Is Restless Legs Syndrome?
The primary characteristic of restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a sensation in the legs that is so uncomfortable or painful that the sufferer must move them in order to get relief. The disorder might also affect the trunk, arms or face. As the discomfort tends to worsen at night during rest, RLS is considered both a neurological sensory disorder and a sleep disorder.
While it is most often diagnosed in middle-aged women, RLS can strike anyone of any age, including children. About half of RLS cases are considered hereditary. RLS usually isn’t related to a serious, underlying condition, but it can accompany other health issues. Risk factors include:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- End-stage renal failure
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Pregnancy — Symptoms generally disappear after childbirth.
Some medications, including antidepressants, antihistamines, and psychiatric or antipsychotic drugs, as well as those that control dizziness and nausea, have been known to trigger or worsen RLS symptoms. Other potential triggers include alcohol and caffeine.
RLS sufferers often have a hard time describing the discomfort in their legs, but symptoms follow a typical pattern. They include:
- An irresistible urge to move the legs — Patients may describe the feeling in their legs (or other affected areas) as a creeping, throbbing or pulling sensation.
- Fatigue — RLS can lead to extreme weakness and tiredness.
- Sleep issues — RLS can make it difficult to fall or stay asleep, leading to daytime sleepiness.
- Additional pain — Burning and tingling, as well as muscle spasms or cramps — are common with RLS.
While RLS isn’t curable, symptoms can be managed through:
- An FDA-approved medical device — A pressurized foot wrap or a vibrating pad provide solutions for some patients.
- Iron supplements — Anemia-related RLS may be improved by taking iron supplements.
- Lifestyle modifications — Avoiding known triggers may help reduce the frequency or severity of RLS.
- Medication — Prescription nerve pain medication or dopamine promoters may be prescribed by a physician.
- Self care — Exercise, massage, smoking cessation and relaxation may alleviate symptoms.
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