What Is Restless Leg Syndrome?

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder associated with strange pulling, throbbing, creeping, or other unpleasant and uncomfortable sensations in the legs. Moreover, there is a tendency of feeling an uncontrollable or overwhelming urge to move them. A person starts feeling the symptoms during the night when they are sleeping and the discomfort can get more severe as the night goes on.

The uncomfortable sensations vary from Paresthesia (Abnormal Sensations) or Dysesthesias (Unpleasant Abnormal Sensations) and the variations depend on how irritating the sensations are. People with RLS feel restless and have difficulties falling asleep and sometimes staying asleep. If not treated, RLS can significantly affect a person’s personal as well as professional dealings. Their everyday activities are also often compromised as they are unable to get an adequate amount of sleep. In a lot of cases RLS has been known to cause depression.

According to research reports, it was found that around 10 percent of the population of America suffers from RLS. There are at least three million cases of RLS in the country every year. Sometimes due to mild symptoms, people do not think about treating in the hope that it will go away, but if not treated, it may get worse. Around 1 million children who are in schools are affected by RLS.

This disorder occurs in both men and women butit has been found out that women are most likely to be affected by it. There is no particular age for the onset of RLS but the symptoms become more frequent and long lasting with the passage of time. In order to get relief from the symptoms, people are supposed to move their leg which is why it has been categorized as a movement disorder.

What Are The Symptoms Of RLS?

People with RLS tend to feel unpleasant sensations in their legs, especially when sitting or lying and feel the urge to move their affected leg. However, these sensations do not usually affect head, arms or trunk. People suffering from RLS have the tendency of moving their legs at all times as it helps overcome the pain. They are always found pacing back andforth and their symptoms are more evident during the night rather than the morning.

Furthermore, if a person is not moving for a long period of time while sitting in long car trips, during long flights or a three hour long movie, these symptoms are felt.RLS symptoms change from day to day anddiffer in severity and frequency from one person to another.

People with mild RLS may have some uncomfortable sleep onset which is reflected in daytime activities. In cases that are moderate or severe, symptoms occur only once or twice a week but result in significant delay of sleep onset along with some serious disruption of daytime function.  In severe cases of RLS, the symptoms occur more than twice a week and result in discomforting interruption of sleep and impairment of daytime function. In this case the person is sleep deprived severely.

What Are The Causes Of RLS?

The causes of RLS have been unknown for majority of the cases. There are various factors which have however been always attributed with RLS. In some cases it has proven to be genetic. According to a study, it was found that RLS is found in families where the onset of symptoms is before age 40.

Studies also have shown that low levels of iron in the brain also may be responsible for RLS. Some evidence suggeststhat RLS is related to a dysfunction in the brain’s Basal Ganglia Circuits which use the neurotransmitter Dopamine needed to produce smooth, purposeful muscle activity and movement. Any disruption caused in this pathway results in involuntary movements. Individuals with Parkinson’s disease, another disorder of the Basal Ganglia’s Dopamine pathways, often experience RLS as well.

Following is a list of the causes of RLS although researchers do not yet know if these factors actually cause RLS:

  • Chronic diseases such as Kidney Failure, Diabetes and Peripheral Neuropathy. Treating the underlying condition often provides relief from RLS symptoms.
  • Certain medications may aggravate symptoms.
  • Pregnancy, especially in the last trimester. In most cases, symptoms usually disappear within 4 weeks after delivery.
  • Consumption of Alcohol, Caffeine, Tobacco
  • Sleep Deprivation

How can RLS be treated?

RLS can be controlled by diagnosing and treating other medical condition that it might be a side effect of. Apart from this, changing your lifestyle and activities might reduce symptoms in a person too. These are some of the ways through which RLS can be controlled:

  • Lower consumption ofCaffeine, Alcohol and Tobacco
  • Supplements to correct Iron, Folate and Magnesium deficiencies
  • Changing or maintaininga regular sleep pattern
  • Exercising regularly
  • Massaging the legs, taking a Hot Bath, Or Using a Heating Pad or Ice Pack.
  • Medication Treatment for RLS

Dopaminergic Agents, Ropinirole, Pramipexole, Rotigotine, Levodopa and Carbidopa are all drugs often prescribed to treat RLS. Moreover, the FDA has approved Gabapentin Enacarbil, which metabolizes in the body to become Gabapentin, for the treatment of moderate to severe RLS.Benzodiazepines can help individuals who have mild or intermittent symptoms obtain a more restful sleep. However, Benzodiazepines such as Clonazepam and Diazepam are generally prescribed to treat Anxiety, Muscle Spasms and Insomnia.

A most of these drugs also may induce oraggravate Sleep Apnea in some cases they should only be taken under prescription and supervision. Opioids such as Codeine, Propoxyphene, and Or Oxycodone may be prescribed at night to diminish pain and help to relax individuals with more severe symptoms. Side effects include Dizziness, Nausea, exacerbation of Sleep Apnea and the risk of addiction.

Anticonvulsants such as Gabapentin and Pregabalincan decrease the sensory disturbances such as creeping and crawling sensations and nerve pain. Dizziness, Fatigue and Sleepiness are among the possible side effects.

The Relaxis Pad which the person can place at the site of discomfort when in bed provides 30 minutes of vibrations (counterstimulation) that ramp off after 30 minutes. It has been approved by the FDA for treating individuals with RLS.