Restless Leg SyndromeRestless leg syndrome is a common cause of painful legs. The leg pain of restless leg syndrome typically eases with motion of the legs and becomes more noticeable at rest. Restless leg syndrome also features worsening of symptoms during the early evening or later at night. The characteristic nighttime worsening of symptoms in persons with restless legs syndrome frequency leads to insomnia.
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) affects up to 10% of American adults. They may have difficulty lying down and sleeping, or sitting down and relaxing, because their legs just won't let them. Air travel and long car trips are a trial. Even enjoying a television show may be more than they can manage.
Restless leg syndrome usually begins slowly. Over time, the legs become more affected. Less frequently, restless leg syndrome can affect the arms.
What Are Common Signs And Symptoms Of Restless Legs?
As described above, people with RLS feel uncomfortable sensations in their legs, especially when sitting or lying down, accompanied by an irresistible urge to move about. These sensations usually occur deep inside the leg, between the knee and ankle; more rarely, they occur in the feet, thighs, arms, and hands. Although the sensations can occur on just one side of the body, they most often affect both sides.
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. They may pace the floor, constantly move their legs while sitting, and toss and turn in bed.
Most people find the symptoms to be less noticeable during the day and more pronounced in the evening or at night, especially during the onset of sleep. For many people, the symptoms disappear by early morning, allowing for more refreshing sleep at that time. Other triggering situations are periods of inactivity such as long car trips, sitting in a movie theater, long-distance flights, immobilization in a cast, or relaxation exercises.
What Causes Restless Legs Syndrome?
In other cases, RLS appears to be related to the following factors or conditions, although researchers do not yet know if these factors actually cause RLS.
- People with low iron levels or anemia may be prone to developing RLS. Once iron levels or anemia is corrected, patients may see a reduction in symptoms.
- Chronic diseases such as kidney failure, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and peripheral neuropathy are associated with RLS. Treating the underlying condition often provides relief from RLS symptoms.
- Some pregnant women experience RLS, especially in their last trimester. For most of these women, symptoms usually disappear within 4 weeks after delivery.
- Certain medications-such as antinausea drugs (prochlorperazine or metoclopramide), antiseizure drugs (phenytoin or droperidol), antipsychotic drugs (haloperidol or phenothiazine derivatives), and some cold and allergy medications-may aggravate symptoms. Patients can talk with their physicians about the possibility of changing medications.
Researchers also have found that caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco may aggravate or trigger symptoms in patients who are predisposed to develop RLS. Some studies have shown that a reduction or complete elimination of such substances may relieve symptoms, although it remains unclear whether elimination of such substances can prevent RLS symptoms from occurring at all.
Is There Any Treatment?
For those with mild to moderate symptoms, many physicians suggest certain lifestyle changes and activities to reduce or eliminate symptoms. Decreased use of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco may provide some relief. Physicians may suggest that certain individuals take supplements to correct deficiencies in iron, folate, and magnesium. Taking a hot bath, massaging the legs, or using a heating pad or ice pack can help relieve symptoms in some patients.
Physicians also may suggest a variety of medications to treat RLS, including dopaminergics, benzodiazepines (central nervous system depressants), opioids, and anticonvulsants. In 2005, ropinirole became the only drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration specifically for the treatment of moderate to severe RLS.
What Is The Prognosis?
RLS is generally a life-long condition for which there is no cure. Symptoms may gradually worsen with age. Nevertheless, current therapies can control the disorder, minimizing symptoms and increasing periods of restful sleep. In addition, some patients have remissions, periods in which symptoms decrease or disappear for days, weeks, or months, although symptoms usually eventually reappear.
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