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The Restless Legs

Updated on January 10, 2013

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a common health disorder characteristically marked by agitated legs that feel like they want to remain active even when one is asleep. RLS is not a life-threatening disorder but can be very agonizing and sometimes very disturbing. There is therefore a need to get information on the causes and symptoms of RLS. In the same way, one needs to know the various remedies and treatments of restless legs as well as what one should do to avoid this disorder. In this discussion, an attempt will be made to examine the above mentioned issues as well as mentioning the various methods that have been applied to arrest the situation.

RLS is not a sign of any other internal or external health problem and is not fatal to the sufferers. However, those who have the disorder find that they are very uncomfortable especially during the night or when they have taken a cold shower. They also find that they are living a very low quality of life due to the discomfort that follow the disorder. It is notable that some research has speculated on the link between RLS and other diseases such as those which affect the heart. There have been arguments that the disorder is indicative of other underlying heart diseases.

Restless leg syndrome is sometimes very complex to figure out. This is because not all individuals who have the disorder describe what they feel in the same way. The most common feeling is that the legs feel painful or twitchy to an extent that leg discomfort will disrupt the normal resting experience of the individuals suffering from the disorder. The feeling is sometimes not confined to the legs only; some people find that they feel the same on the hands as well as the trunk. In this way, because of the fact that it also affects the other parts of the body, arguments have been brought forward to rename the disorder as Willis-Ekbom. These are the two individuals who were involved in the early research of the syndrome. In this way, the notions that it only affects the legs would be dispelled as this is incorrect and misleading. The notion does not correctly describe the disorder.

The most common descriptions used by those individuals with the syndrome include such terms as they are feeling pain, ache, twitchy, crawling or even tickling. This means that different people feel different feelings and that it is therefore subjectively manifested to different people. The degree of the feeling or pain differs with different people. Some may feel such a slight discomfort and a feeling to just wake-up and move. Others will feel that the pain is too much and sometimes overwhelming such that they will find it difficult to carry out normal functions such as resting or sleeping. All in all, the feeling is slightly dependent on what the person is doing at that particular time. It has been noted that once the individual wakes up and start moving, the pain is reduced. It then resumes when the individual resumes resting or sleeping.

Is RLS such a big issue?

Restless leg syndrome becomes an issue once and when it occurs. During normal working time, it is not a very big issue due to the fact that when the legs feel that they want to move, then one can just wake up and move. Moving around for some time reduces the effects of RLS and therefore it may not be a very disturbing issue. This is especially so if the workplace will allow this movement. If it is not very possible, then this may be an issue. Other times especially when doing long flights, the syndrome may be an issue in the sense that it might not be possible to wake up and move around.

If the RLS occurs when you are trying to sleep, then this may be a problem. You may find that the discomfort caused by the syndrome does not allow you to sleep easily or comfortably. When the disorder occurs when you have already slept or in the middle of sleeping, then this may also make you to wake up and fail to enjoy the rest. In addition to this, the syndrome also triggers what is called leg jerk, where the individual will kick out the legs. This leg jerking will make the person wake up from sleep. It is also sometimes very dangerous as the individual may kick the person next to him or her and cause physical harm. The individual may also kick the wall or anything else next to where he or she is sleeping. This may also cause physical harm.

Is RLS dangerous?

Well, RLS may not be labeled as dangerous or fatal to the persons suffering from it. However, it has been argued that the disorder may not be curable and that it lasts for a life-time albeit with lesser or higher degree of severity depending on the treatment methods the individual uses.

Even though some research has linked the disorder with increased risks of heart diseases, the arguments are not deeply strong and conclusive. The disorder does not and has never caused heart disease per se. however it has been seen that those with heart diseases have stronger bouts of restless leg syndrome and that those with the syndrome have thicker heart walls. This has been attributed to the resting or sleeping disruptions such that those with RLS also experience less quality rest or sleep and this translates to stress with snow-ball effects to the heart and other body tissues. It has also been speculated that those with heart diseases also have stronger RLS due to reasons that are not very clear.

What causes RLS?

There have been controversy and blurry arguments on the real causes of RLS. However, research has shown that there is a strong link of hereditary factors as the leading causative agent of RLS. This is because; those individuals with the disorder have relatives with the same. It is however notable that the real gene that is responsible for this communication of the disorder from one generation to the next has not been identified. In this way, research is still not very conclusive. Heredity is therefore regarded as the most probable cause of restless leg syndrome.

It should be noted that those with the disorder also register deficiency in iron. It is therefore very probable that iron deficiency is a cause of RLS. The supporters of this argument also speculate that those who register the required amount of iron but also have the syndrome may mean that the iron may not be getting through to the areas that need it most such as the brain.

Other health issues have been identified as the causes of the disorder. These health issues are also thought to worsen the disorder if it is already there. They include pregnancy, deficiencies in magnesium, thyroid problems and diseases, diabetes, sleep apnea, celiac disease and fibromyalgia among other health issues. It is good to note that those with vein diseases also have higher chances of RLS and is usually worsened if already present.

It is thought that there are prescriptions or otherwise drugs that also trigger the onset of RLS either permanently or just temporally. These diverse causes of RLS have brought about other speculations that have stressed up the medical fraternity. There are those who belief that the long list of the probable causes of RLS is indicative of other underlying health problems. These underlying health issues may be the ones causing the condition while the doctors are treating just the symptoms and not the actual disorder or causative agent.

Among the questions that doctors seek to correctly diagnose the restless leg syndrome is the characteristic feeling of the individual. The feelings are subjective due to the fact that the disorder is neurological. But most commonly, the feeling are so immense that the individual will need to move. Secondly, the feelings are commonly experienced during the night, while sleeping or resting. Thirdly, once the individual wakes up and moves the feeling goes away. If all these issues are present, then this is a clear indication that the patient is suffering from RLS.

Other blood tests also confirm to a certain degree that the person may be suffering from RLS. These tests examine the levels of iron in the blood and if the levels are not normal, then the individual may be suffering from RLS. It is a common practice in the medical world that the doctor may start off medication even before the actual diagnosis. However, different cases call for different reactions. Some cases call for actual determination before medication to rule out any other causes or presence of other health problems.

Treatment of restless leg syndrome

It is a known fact that RLS is not a life-threatening disorder. However it is also possible that it may be a symptom of other health problems such as diabetes. This therefore means that treatment of this disorder starts with ensuring that it is not an indication of other issues. If it has been determined that is being caused by the other issues, then the best treatment of the same is by addressing these issues.

In as much as the disorder is not life threatening, there are repercussions that the condition comes with. These repercussions may be brought about by the stress related to the disorder. This can cause other problems and may manifest in later life after the onset of the disorder. After it has been diagnosed that the individual suffering from this condition does not have any there underlying issues, then treatment of restless leg syndrome is initiated.

There are several treatment options for the disorder. These include such treatments as epilepsy, Parkinson and sleep medications. Different people respond differently to these medications. However, some medications may fail to some people while the same can alter the manifestation of the disorder. These medications aimed at treating RLS are usually prescription based and require the approval of the doctor before really buying them from the pharmacies or chemists.

Parkinson medication as used for RLS

These medications are normally aimed at raising the levels of dopamine in the body or brain. It should be noted here that though the medications are used to treat such dangerous disease, the individuals suffering from RLS are not at any way in greater threat for Parkinson disorder. Due to the fact that dopamine levels drop during the night, and also that this corresponds with the time when RLS is greatest, the medication is seen to work well. This coincidence of dropping of the dopamine and the onset of RLS symptoms is the rationale behind the use of these medications to treat RLS.

These medications are usually taken just before bed time. In this way, they are not beneficial to counter daytime RLS. It is also recommended that they should not be used for more than nine months. The Parkinson medications as used for RLS are associated with fewer side effects. However there are general concerns that they are associated with incidences of addictive behavior. There are studies indicative of addictions to such issues as gambling, increased sexual desires and other types of addictive behavior. This is without mentioning other known side effects such as nausea, which manifest themselves with the use of the Parkinson medications.

It is through this understanding that the Parkinson medications are only prescribed to those individuals who really need them. This is irrespective of the medications outright effectiveness in the treatment of restless leg syndrome.

Epilepsy medications as used in treatment of RLS

Epilepsy medications have been used in the treatment of restless leg syndrome. There have been speculations on why these medications are effective in the treatment that is totally different from what they are meant to treat. In this way, speculations on the nature of these two unrelated medical issues have focused on the symptoms of the two health disorders. Epilepsy is a seizure that contributes or causes the occurrence of convulsions. In this sense, it is similar to the convulsions that are caused by RLS during sleep. This may be the reason why the medications are effective for RLS.

However, there are reasons to believe that these epilepsy medications as used in the treatment of RLS have their own side effects and concerns in their use. There is therefore every reason to use the medications with caution and directions of your physician. There are some that are thought to cause cancer.

Sleep medications for RLS

One of the most notorious symptoms of RLS is the fact that the restlessness interferes with the sleep. Most people suffering from the disorder find that the sleep is disrupted in the middle of the night. This is therefore the rationale behind the use of sleep medications; sleep aid and sedatives. These medications are therefore not directed to the treatment of restless leg per se, but aimed at lessening the chances of waking up in the middle of the night.

It should be remembered that the sleep medications have their own side effects and should also be used with caution and directions from the doctor.

There are also other drugs that can well be used in the treatment of RLS. These includes common over the counter painkillers. Other medications such as medical use of cannabis sativa have been proposed. It should be clearly stated that the use of the weed for RLS is somewhat contentious but depending on the legal situation in your country, then the weed may be used.

Herbal remedies for RLS

There is every reason to use herbal remedies for RLS. This is because these medications do not have as much side effects as the above mentioned medications. They are also available without doctor’s prescription and that you can source for them locally.

Due to the fact that RLS is not fatal or life-threatening, the majority of individuals find that using natural and herbal remedies for RLS is a good option. In this way, herbal supplements have been labeled as a good alternative way of managing restless leg syndrome.

Some of the most common herbs for the treatment of restless leg disorder include;

· Valerian root has been used in the management of RLS. This does not mean that it has been used as a curative or preventative agent; it has rather been used as a sleep inducer. In this way, the root is a good relieve of stress and sleep aid. Those who have used the root have had the opportunity of enjoying better and quality sleep.

· Passionflower is another commonly used herb for its sedative properties. It is not yet very clear whether the herb can be used in the treatment of RLS per se but it is very clear that it has sedative properties and therefore lessens the stress as a result of sedative prowess.

· Kava herb has also been used by some people in the treatment of RLS. However, the relationship between the herb and the RLS is not yet very pronounced or very clear. It is known that despite this lack of research in the field, the herb is known for its sleep aid and anti-anxiety properties.

The herbal treatment methods of RLS have been dotted with controversy and less clear scientific support. However, due to the fact that these herbal supplements are used to treat other diseases and disorders, there is nothing wrong to try the out. However, you should be very clear on your mind that some of the herbs may have consequent side effects. It is therefore important to consult a doctor or any other qualified professional before actually using them. This is especially so if you wish to use these herbal remedies with other medicines.

Vitamin and mineral supplements in the treatment of RLS

Vitamins and other important mineral supplements have been used in the treatment of RLS. The most common supplements are iron supplements. Most of the people suffering from RLS also exhibit low levels of iron. Iron deficiency is therefore the leading causes of this disorder.

Calcium and magnesium deficiencies are also related to the emergence of RLS. This is because in as much as the diet that we consume has the right levels of calcium, magnesium is usually absent. The two must be balanced in order that they can be helpful in the normal bodily functions. These supplements are useful in the treatment of RLS.

Vitamin B12 and folic acid supplements are also good treatments for restless leg syndrome. This means that the two are also very important in the prevention of the condition.

There are other methods that can be used to treat restless leg syndrome. These methods include the use of aerobic exercises, acupuncture, and massage services. This means that those efforts that are aimed at the reduction of both physical and emotional stress are good in treating RLS.

Dietary methods of preventing and treating RLS should not be underrated. It is a known fact that poor eating methods may cause or aggravate RLS. Individuals should also keep their bodies well hydrated by constantly taking pure and clean water and other fluids.

Conclusion

RLS is not actually a very dangerous disorder and obviously not life-threatening. It is a very complex disorder in the sense that it has a number of causes and can well be a sign of another underlying health problem. These causes range from vitamin and mineral deficiencies, to neurological problems and hereditary angles.

In this sense, treatment of restless legs is a complex and subjective exercise that is always particular to the case in question. It is difficult to generalize and apply treatment options to all across the board. There is therefore a need to ensure that one has taken time to look for the best treatment options particular to individual needs. The practice is to start with the safest and most accessible and continuing to the more complicated methods. However, one should be sure to consult a qualified professional in case of any eventuality.

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