Restless Legs Syndrome

If you have uncomfortable sensations in your legs when at rest, and an uncontrollable urge to move your legs to get relief, you may have Restless Legs Syndrome or RLS.

RLS sensations are often described by people as burning, creeping, tugging, or an insect like crawling sensation inside the legs that ranges from irritating to painful. These sensations are not the same as leg cramps or numbness. Lying down or trying to relax may activate RLS.

This causes difficulty in falling and staying asleep. RLS can cause daytime exhaustion and impact your job, personal relationships and daily activities. You may find it hard to concentrate and due to a lack of rest, experience impaired memory.

Symptoms
Common symptoms of RLS include:

  • Uncomfortable sensations in your legs, especially when sitting or lying down
  • Sensations that occur deep inside the leg usually between your knee and ankle, but they can occur elsewhere
  • Leg sensations may occur on one or both sides of your body
  • Periods of inactivity such as a long car ride may cause symptoms to appear
  • Symptoms are more pronounced in the evening or at night, especially as you start to fall asleep
  • Often, the symptoms disappear by early morning, allowing for more sleep at that time
  • Because moving the legs temporarily relieves the discomfort, you may often keep your legs in motion to minimize or prevent the sensations. You may also notice you pace the floor or toss and turn in bed.

Risk factors
About 12 million Americans have RLS and it is believed many more have it but have not been formally diagnosed.

  • Slightly more women than men have RLS.
  • About half of RLS sufferers have a family member with RLS. In these case, relatives tend to develop the syndrome younger and have a slower progression of the condition.
  • RLS can start at any age, even in infants, but the risk increases as you age. The most severely affected are middle age and older.

Causes
The cause of RLS is unknown. RLS appears to be related to several conditions, although research is limited in conclusive evidence as to what actually causes RLS.

  • People with low iron levels or anemia may be prone to developing RLS.
  • Chronic diseases such as kidney failure, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and peripheral neuropathy are associated with RLS.
  • Some pregnant women experience RLS.
  • Certain medications, such as anti-nausea drugs, anti-seizure drugs, antipsychotic drugs and some cold and allergy medications, may aggravate RLS symptoms.

Diagnosis
Your primary care provider may refer you to a sleep specialist or a neurologist to diagnose and treat RLS.

  • Medical history and physical exam. A sleep specialist or neurologist will take your medical history and conduct a complete physical exam. It is believed that some underlying conditions may trigger RLS. These conditions include kidney failure, Parkinson disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, pregnancy, and iron deficiency. Your doctor will want to know what medicines you take and whether any relatives have RLS.
  • Tests. Currently, no test can diagnose RLS. Your doctor is likely to order blood tests and in some cases, your physician may refer you to Riverside Centers for Sleep Medicine for a sleep study.

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