What Is Restless Legs Syndrome?
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a disorder characterized by uncomfortable or unpleasant sensations in the legs. These sensations are described as pulling, tugging, drawing, creeping, crawling, wormy, burning, tingling, prickly, and sometimes painful sensations that are usually accompanied by an overwhelming urge to move the legs. Sudden muscle jerks may also occur.
These sensations usually occur in the calf area but may be felt anywhere from the thigh to the ankle. More rarely, they occur in the feet, arms or hands.
Because moving the legs (or other affected parts of the body) relieves the discomfort, people with RLS often keep their legs in motion to minimize or prevent the sensations. As a result they pace around the room, constantly move their legs while sitting, and toss and turn in bed. This, in turn, leads to sleep deprivation which poses risks for your physical, emotional, and mental health.
These sensations in the legs often occur during periods of relaxation and decreased activity, such as during long car trips, sitting in a movie theater, long-distance flights, immobilization in a cast, or relaxation exercises. It may also cause involuntary jerking of the limbs during sleep or wakefulness. Sleep disturbance is common with RLS. It often causes difficulty staying or falling asleep, which leads to daytime sleepiness or fatigue.
Research suggests that RLS affects about 10 percent of adults in North America and Europe alone. Its incidence is slightly higher in women, with rates increasing with age.
What Causes Restless Legs Syndrome?
Although the causes of RLS are unknown in most cases, certain factors are related to it including:
- pregnancy or hormonal changes
- nerve damage
- low levels of iron or anemia
- chronic diseases (such as kidney problems, diabetes, arthritis and Parkinson’s disease and peripheral neuropathy)
- medications (antinausea, antiseizure, antipsychotic and some cold and allergy drugs)
- caffeine, alcohol and tobacco intake
- Stress, diet or other environmental factors
What Are the Symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome?
The symptoms of RLS vary in severity and duration from person to person. To alleviate its symptoms, physicians suggest:
- leg massages
- hot baths
- using heating pad or ice pack
- iron, foliate and magnesium supplements
- decreased use of caffeine, alcohol and tobacco
- regular sleep pattern
Do not hesitate to consult with your health care provider if you feel or suspect that you have the Restless Legs Syndrome. Prevention goes a long way.