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Restless Leg Syndrome – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Updated on December 19, 2013

What is Restless Leg Syndrome?

Restless leg syndrome is a disorder wherein the affected person will feel severe discomfort in the legs, usually in the evenings while lying down or sitting. The affected individual then wants to get up and walk around. Engaging in such activities can, then cause the symptoms of restless leg syndrome to temporary disappear.

The signs of restless leg syndrome can appear at any age and typically tends to worsen with the progression of age. The syndrome can result in sleep disturbances which can lead to drowsiness during the day. This can eventually result in travelling difficulties.

The condition can be treated with several self-care methods as well as lifestyle changes. Affected individuals may also intake drugs to alleviate the symptoms of restless leg syndrome.

Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome

Individuals affected by restless leg syndrome normally describe the symptoms of the disorder as uncomfortable feelings in their thighs, feet and calves. The arms may also sometimes experience these signs which may get elicited in the following ways:

  • Slithering
  • Crawling
  • Dragging
  • Itching
  • Pulsating
  • Tugging
  • Painful
  • Prickly
  • Gnawing

On certain occasions, individuals affected by restless leg syndrome may not be able to describe the sensations. They generally do not describe the feelings as numbness or cramping of the muscles. However, almost all of them have a perennial desire to hold or move the legs.

It is typical that the symptoms may alter in the severity levels over a period of time. Sometimes they may vanish for a particular period of time.

The usual patterns that accompany restless leg syndrome include the following:

  • The sensations that are associated with condition normally commence after a period of prolonged inactivity, when one is sitting or lying down, as would be the case in a movie theater, a car or an airplane
  • The affected individuals may experience milder symptoms during the day, which tend to worsen during evenings and are majorly felt during nighttime
  • The symptoms of restless leg syndrome tend to wane as one gets up and moves around. The affected individuals typically engage in leg jiggling, stretching, exercising, walking or briskly pacing the floor to reduce the sensations. Restless leg syndrome gets its name from this forceful desire of the patients to walk or move, to get rid of the unwanted feelings.
  • A number of individuals affected by restless leg syndrome may also experience another associated disorder known as periodic limb movement disorder or PLMD. This disorder causes one to involuntarily flex or kick ones legs and may prevail for the entire night. Mostly, such activities do not cause any sleep disturbances. Severe forms of restless leg syndrome can result in involuntary twitching of the legs even during the daytime. A majority of restless leg syndrome sufferers also experience PLMD

Causes of Restless Leg Syndrome

The exact causes of restless leg syndrome are not known as yet. It is popularly believed that irregularities in the levels of dopamine can result in the condition. Dopamine is a brain chemical that is responsible for regulation of muscle movements.

Restless leg syndrome can occur at any age and even during childhood. The incidence of the syndrome tends to increase with age.

Hormonal changes or pregnancy can temporarily aggravate the symptoms of restless leg syndrome in women. A few women may experience restless leg syndrome signs for the first time during pregnancy, particularly at the time of the last trimester. The signs generally tend to vanish, post delivery.

Nearly fifty percent of the individuals affected by restless leg syndrome have inherited the condition. Hence, it has strong genetic causes. Some studies have identified the chromosomal sites where the genes responsible for restless leg syndrome, reside.

Restless leg syndrome is generally not associated with any pre-existing diseases. However, on occasions the below mentioned conditions may accompany restless leg syndrome.

  • Deficiency in iron content in the body can often cause or aggravate the signs of restless leg syndrome
  • Peripheral neuropathy which leads to damage of the nerves in the feet and hands may be caused due to alcoholism or diabetes
  • Impaired functioning of the kidneys can cause iron deficiency which in turn increases the risk to developing restless leg syndrome

Treatment of Restless Leg Syndrome

  • If restless leg syndrome is a result of an existing underlying condition, then treatment of that condition can cure the syndrome.

In case of restless leg syndrome without an underlying condition as the primary cause, the doctor may suggest the following:

  • Various types of medications that are used to treat different conditions such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, etc may be prescribed. Additionally, the doctor may also recommend mild doses of opioids as well as sleep medications and muscle relaxants to reduce sleep disturbances and alleviate the RLS symptoms, respectively.
  • It is imperative that all of the above drugs have to be taken only after consulting a doctor. Pregnant women should avoid taking them
  • Mild symptoms can be reduced by taking over the counter pain killer medications

Meditation, warm compresses and baths, massages, regular exercise and avoidance of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine can also help alleviate the symptoms of restless leg syndrome.

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