How To Cope With Restless Leg Syndrome
What is restless leg syndrome?
In 1945 a doctor of neurology by the name of Karl Ekbom diagnosed this condition and so it's sometimes referred to as 'Ekbom's Syndrome' or 'Willis-Ekbom' Disease. The 'Willis' named is the English doctor Sir Thomas Willis who, in 1672, first described the symptoms he had noted in a number of people - the symptoms in the 17th century are the same as they are today.
This is then a condition that is not new and at the present time affects millions of people worldwide. Let's first of all have a more in depth look at this condition and the symptoms.
Common Symptoms of restless leg syndrome
There are many conditions people can develop much more painful and certainly more serious than restless leg syndrome (RLS). However, for anyone who has suffered from this - either temporarily or permanently - it can be one of the most stressful conditions you could ever have. In addition to all this, it can be painful for some people.
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is often classed as a neurological disorder as well as a sleep disorder. There is also another connected condition that can occur with RLS, called 'periodic limb movement of sleep' (PLMs). In addition, although a separate ailment, people can develop 'periodic limb/leg movement disorder' (PLMD).
RLS is also known as a spectrum disorder since the feelings can vary between people from mild annoyance to extreme symptoms. It also increases in severity for some but goes into remission for others. According to medical research carried out by the National Center on Sleep Disorders, (NCSD) USA, women are more likely than men to suffer from RLS as are people who have northern European ancestry. As we can see, this is a complex subject and medical research is ongoing. To date, the exact cause is unknown and there is no cure.
Let's take a look at what people experience when they suffer from RLS. The main symptoms are:
- Unpleasant feelings in the legs - or arms/torso - when resting. Moving the limbs stops the feelings for a few seconds.
- You can also have jerking/spasms of the legs while sleeping. This experience wakens people, leading to disrupted sleep and fatigue in the morning. This is known as periodic limb/leg movements of sleep,(PLMs). Another condition called periodic limb movement disorder, (PLMD), is an entirely different complaint but often occurs along with RLS. However, RLS is sometimes experienced during the day, PLMD is only experienced during sleep.
- RLS tends to be worse from evening onwards. However, as previously mentioned, there are people who suffer during the day as well. Symptoms can arise while sitting on a chair at home or at work, or perhaps sitting on a bus or even in a theatre.
- RLS - in some cases - might be a symptom of another medical condition. Although the cause of RLS is not known, researchers have linked it to rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, anaemia and kidney problems.
Feelings in the limbs have been described as:
- pins and needles
- very deep pain/aches
This is one of those conditions that may not sound much to people who don't experience it. However, RLS can in effect rule a person's life. Here are some experiences from people from the NHS (National Health Service) UK Website:
- "...It's the afternoons and evenings! I cannot sit down in an armchair or sofa. The kitchen stool seems better (why?) I cannot go to see a film or play or just slob and watch the TV - I would love to. Sometimes I have to stop driving, because if it is really bad the leg jerk is uncontrollable. I work in an office and sometimes can't sit at my desk - I work standing up. As for the journey home on the train ..... It is worse if I feel closed in too. RLS rules my life and I am so sick of it."
- "I have had RLS for about 6 years now and it is getting worse I am now taking ropinirole 3 mg just to get through the night. I take citalopram for stress which I'm told makes the RLS worse, but as yet no one has come up with an alternative. If anyone can help out there that would be great."
As we can see from just these two people, RLS is not a joke and it can have serious consequences for many. In particular the loss of sleep that leads to depression, stress, the inability to do everyday things and so on.
There are plenty of websites out there that give excellent support and advice for anyone who is suffering from RLS. Having said that, because as yet doctors don't know what causes the condition, the information given on one site might only help a few people. Others would have to try another site for something else that may help. However, because I've also had to put up with RLS - and still do on occasion - I thought a hub showing some of the things I've done to combat RLS might be helpful to others as well as showing the main changes that helped me. I'm not suggesting that everything I've done will give you the same results, but at least it will give you ideas to think about.
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Factors relating to restless leg syndrome
The following is a list of some of the common factors of RLS:
- Although it does affect mainly adults, children are known to suffer from it.
- The condition can be temporary - for example brought on by certain medication - when the medication is stopped then RLS symptoms disappear. Some anti-depressants such as prozac (fluoxetine), are particularly bad for causing RLS. In addition some medicines used for heartburn, such as Zantac, have also been known to trigger RLS.
- The severity of the symptoms varies between each person as well as the actual sensations and levels of pain. In addition people can have RLS continually without any remission.
- People who have a job where they are sitting for long periods of time have a higher rate of RLS. This is thought to be in part due to the circulation of blood being reduced for long periods of time.
- There are numerous triggers for RLS - and we'll look at these a little later.
- People have various methods and techniques that they use to combat the effects of RLS.
- Pregnancy has been known to cause RLS but usually disappear after the baby is born.
- Smoking, caffeine and alcohol are known to cause RLS symptoms in many sufferers, but not all.
- Some medical conditions seem to show a higher rate of RLS among patients - such as anaemia, kidney disease, diabetes, obesity and thyroid problems.
- RLS increases with age.
- Some women experiencing the menopause feel that their RLS symptoms are worse.
- People with circulatory problems of the lower legs, for example varicose veins, can develop RLS.
- Exercises that help to increase circulation to the bottom half of the body have been known to have a good effect in decreasing or stopping RLS symptoms, whether the person has circulatory problems or not.
- People who are involved with some level of frequent exercise - even just walking - have a lower incident level of RLS.
So managing RLS is frequently a case of looking at your lifestyle and making changes in the areas that you feel are triggering RLS. To help with this a bit, I'll go onto to tell you how I've managed to reduce significantly the symptoms of RLS and this should give you some ideas about your own lifestyle.
Simple Exercise For Restless Leg Syndrome
Diet and restless leg syndrome
Coping with restless leg syndrome
There are a number of strategies that can be used to combat the symptoms of RLS. For most people it's a matter of reviewing your entire lifestyle and making adjustments until you find the combination that works best for you. It's important to realise that some people who have the severest form of RLS often end up depending on medications such as those used for Parkinson's Disease to control the symptoms. Therefore, it might be the case that due to various factors, lifestyle changes may not be enough for those who are badly affected. In addition, it's always best to consult your doctor before making any changes, especially if you are on any kind of medication or have an existing medical condition.
The main areas you need to look at for triggers to RLS are:
- Diet and fluids taken
- Activity levels
- Type of job you do
- Herbal or other supplements used
- Type of chairs and mattress used
- Current medical conditions such as - fibromyalgia, anaemia, arthritis (especially rheumatoid), thyroid problems, diabetes, kidney problems, peripheral neuropathy.
I occasionally still get restless leg syndrome, but attacks are now far and few between. If it does come on it's usually because of something I have done or something I've neglected to do. The main areas I realised I had to focus on were - my diet, the type of seating I used, sitting too long and medications.
As you can see, there is not usually one trigger for RLS, there can be a few. Although it can take time to eliminate the triggers it's well worth doing this. Find out what starts an attack, what doesn't and if there are things that help.
Lifestyle changes that helped me:
- Diet - I'm mainly vegetarian so I need to watch my vitamin and mineral levels. This also means I can be prone to anaemia and this actually runs in my family. So iron supplements are a must, but I'll mention this later on. What I also have to watch for are meals that are high in salt - such as macaroni cheese. I now tend make meals with lower fat cheeses and very little salt. Another food that causes me major problems is savoury rice - the kind you buy in a pack and boil up. I'm sure this is also because of the salt content. I also avoid salted peanuts like the plaque as they bring on very bad bouts of RLS with me. So have a look at what you enjoy eating and see if RLS symptoms start because of some items of food that you eat. A general rule seems to be that the healthier your diet, the less likely RLS will be a problem.
- I know that on most sites/forums for RLS its stated to avoid caffeine. To be honest I've never had a problem with caffeine, but I can say that de-caffinated coffee can cause me all sorts of problems with RLS, especially if I drink it at night. Whether this is due to the chemicals used in the de-caffinated coffee, I don't know. All I know is that it causes me problems.
- Alcohol can cause bad RLS symptoms if I'm not careful. One or two glasses of good wine are fine and I also like to drink Bailey's Irish Cream - so far I haven't had any problems. However, when I was younger I did drink more spirits and lager, then RLS did affect me badly.
- Anaemia - as I've already mentioned - is a problem for me. I am prone to low iron levels and I also have to watch my vitamin B levels as I don't absorb this too well, meaning that I have to ensure that I take extra vitamin B supplements, especially B12. Now iron and vitamin B supplements are very easy to come by. However, what I've discovered is that the tablet forms of iron and vitamin B just don't work for me at all. They certainly didn't reduce my RLS symptoms. What I take now is a good quality iron supplement in liquid form and they also have vitamin B12 as well as folic acid (B9) and the rest of the 'B' group added. I know they are much more expensive but the plus side has been drastic reduction in RLS and no iron side effects such as gastric problems.
- People have also found that other supplements such as potassium and magnesium seem to help the symptoms of RLS. However always consult your doctor before taking these supplements as they can be toxic if taken in too large a quantity.
- Type of seating. The type of seating and for how long people sit down can cause enormous problems with RLS. I tend to find the worse kind of seating for me is the common office type chairs - especially if you have to sit down for long periods. I used to end up standing for most of the time at work. However, I have found that RLS is improved by firstly taking short walking breaks after sitting. I would get up at least every 15 minutes and keep standing or have a walk for at least 5 minutes, longer if possible.I know that many people with RLS find that sitting in a cinema, going for a meal, sitting on a train/bus/plane will also trigger off symptoms. However, some exercises that you can try, have helped many people with this issue.
- I've being doing RLS exercises for a while now - especially the ones that help with circulation. I have to say, that they have been a huge benefit to me. Other sufferers also state that they have found walking and/or running on the spot alleviates RLS symptoms.
- If your legs, feet and buttocks get too hot after you've been sitting or walking, then find a way to cool them down. For example, a cold compress or cold water splashed or dabbed onto the feet and lower legs in particular. I've found that when my legs and feet get over heated this can trigger off an RLS episode. In addition to cooling your legs down, also do some of the exercises from the video that are for RLS. I have to say that I haven't had the problem of hot feet/legs for a long time. Since using a quality iron/vitamin B supplement, changing my diet and doing the exercises this problem seems to have gone.
I hope this article will be of some benefit to those of you who suffer from this distressing condition. However, a word of warning - there are many websites out there that claim to have a cure for RLS - this is false. To date, there is no cure. There are, as we have seen, lifestyle changes that can help to prevent or dampen down the symptoms of RLS, but there is no cure.
Lastly and as always, this article is for information only and is not a substitute for seeking proper medical advice from a doctor. Good luck!
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