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Restless Leg Syndrome: Get Your Facts Right

Updated on December 29, 2010

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless Leg Syndrome: Get Your Facts Right

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a disorder of the nerves. As the name suggest, the syndrome is characterized by restless legs, which means that the affected person keeps on moving his or her legs. 

Important Facts about RLS:

What is more intriguing about this particular syndrome is the timing of worsening of the symptoms. What any one of us would expect to find is that the restlessness of the legs would be better by rest; but the truth is exactly contrary. As soon as the person attempts to relax by either sitting, lying down or sleeping; the legs begin to ache, pain or feel uncomfortable. The only way the person can find some relief from the discomfort in the legs is by moving or shaking the legs, hence the name- restless leg syndrome. 

Incidence of RLS:

RLS affects around 10 % of the American population and is 2 times more common in women. Children are also not spared from this disorder, and approximately 1 million of school going kids have been confirmed to be suffering from RLS. The severity can increase with increasing age and the saddest part about this disorder is that many of these cases are usually misdiagnosed as arthritis, nervousness or cramping of muscles.

What Are The Symptoms And Signs Of This Syndrome?

  • The most common symptoms that you can find in most of the cases are sensations of pulling, drawing, aching, throbbing, pulsating or creeping within the legs.
  • The sensations could be either abnormal (Paresthesia) or both abnormal and uncomfortable (dysesthesias) 
  • These sensations can also show their effect on other parts of the body like the head, trunk or the upper extremities too.
  • Another common problem that is seen in these patients is the periodic limb movement of sleep. (PLMS) In such cases, the limbs experience periodical and repeated jerks, once in every 15- 40 seconds, while the patient is asleep.
  • The repeated urge to keep moving the legs can severely disturb sleep and subsequently, sleep disorders, irritability and daytime fatigue are very common problems that are faced by these RLS patients.
  • Prolonged sleep disturbance can even lead to more severe issues like depression, insomnia, inability to concentrate and memory impairment. 

What are the causes of RLS?

The exact cause has not yet been pinpointed, but there are a myriad of factors that can contribute to the development of this problem as listed below:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Disorders of basal ganglion circuits of the brain
  • Low levels of iron in the brain
  • Chronic disorders like renal failure, peripheral neuropathy or diabetes mellitus
  • Later phases of pregnancy
  • Use of certain medications like those used for treating depression, psychosis, cold, nausea or allergy.
  • Deprivation of sleep
  • Use of alcohol

 How can RLS be diagnosed?

The diagnosis is entirely symptomatic and there is no special test that is designed to serve the purpose. The hallmark of this disorder is the uncontrollable urge to keep the legs in constant motion, while the rest of the body is relaxed. 

How is RLS treated?

The treatment of restless leg syndrome obviously differs according to the cause or aggravating factor behind it. If there is any underlying chronic disorder that may be causing the RLS, then the treatment is aimed at the disorder. If medications are causing RLS, then either stopping the use or modification of dosage may be needed. If there is iron deficiency, then iron supplements may be required to balance the iron levels in the blood and brain.

The medications used are pramiprexole, ropinirole, benzodiazepines, anti-convulsants etc.

Other measures like application of heat, following a healthy sleep routine and lifestyle, massaging the legs etc may be tried. 


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    • Crewman6 profile image

      Crewman6 6 years ago

      There's a lot of good information here. Thanks for sharing it!