Restless Leg Syndrome: A Complete Guide
Most people who suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome are held captive by unruly sensations in their limbs that are far out of their control. This condition can take command of many aspects of a person’s life, making them feel frustrated and powerless to their own body. Restless Leg Syndrome is nothing to be ashamed of. You aren’t going through it alone because it is actually quite common. Approximately one in ten adults in the United States has been affected by this condition at least some point in their life. Find out what is restless leg syndrome, symptoms, treatments, medications, natural remedies, and tips.
What is Restless Leg Syndrome?
Restless Leg Syndrome, also formally known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, is a neurological disorder that can cause an intense and rather uncomfortable sensation in your legs. Typically, these sensations occur because of lack of movement within the legs. Symptoms generally begin when legs are still or at rest, then tend to increase and get worse at nighttime. Commonly, people who are afflicted by this condition feel the need to shake their leg or walk around to relieve this rather anguished feeling.
Since symptoms are especially prevalent during periods of rest, the condition is also classified as a sleep disorder. It can interfere with a person’s quality of sleep, due to the fact that these overwhelming sensations typically make it hard for a person to fall and remain asleep. In extreme cases, intense periodic limb movements, redundant leg jerking and/or cramping, can prevent a person from falling asleep.
Restless Leg Syndrome – Symptoms
The fundamental symptom of RLS is having uncomfortable sensations in a person’s legs. A classification of the sensations can include:
- Jolting Sensations
- Formication (Defined as a sensation that feels like there are bugs crawling under the surface of a person’s skin.)
These painful sensations above are paired with the urge to constantly move your leg. The intensity of this movement normally increases when a person is sitting or lying down. Patients also report unmanageable tensing and flexing of leg muscles.
This condition becomes even more problematic when it begins to bleed into a person’s daily life.
Restless Leg Syndrome – Potential Causes
Frankly, underlying causes of Restless Leg Syndrome tends to vary between patients. There are no finite origins, but a few potential causes for the development of the condition can include the following:
- Inheritability – Around 50% of people who develop RLS also have a family member who is affected by the condition.
- Iron Deficiency – There is a strong correlation between a low concentration of neural iron and RLS. Treatment of iron deficiency does not cure RLS but it does help with the reduction of the symptoms.
- Imbalance of Dopamine Levels – Restless leg syndrome is a dopamine-dependent disorder. Anatomically, RLS is caused by a hyperproduction of dopamine by your brain cells. Proper medication helps level out irregular concentrations.
- Pregnancy – Pregnant women report RLS symptoms during pregnancy, specifically during their last trimester. Typically, they go away about a month after delivery.
- Chronic Illness- Having other medical conditions such as; Iron deficiency, Parkinson’s Disease, Peripheral Neuropathy, Diabetes, Kidney Failure, can actually induce RLS symptoms. Treating these other conditions can ultimately resolve symptoms caused by RLS.
- Medications – Occasionally, an additional side effect of taking certain medications for other medical conditions induce RLS symptoms. A few examples of the types of medications that generate RLS symptoms include particular brands of; antidepressants, antipsychotic medications and various cold and allergy medications that contain antihistamines.
- Usage of alcohol or other illicit substances
- Sleep Deprivation
Restless Leg Syndrome – Diagnosis
Before seeking the help of a medical professional, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does an unrelentless urge to move your legs lead to difficulties falling asleep at night?
- Are you awaken during the night because your legs feel as if they are on fire?
- When you are lying down, do you feel a persistent itching-like feeling in your legs?
- Does walking or stretching your legs relieve this uncomfortable sensation?
- Do I experience symptoms at least two to three nights every week?
If you answered yes to any of the following questions above, it is time to seek the help of a medical professional. Do not take any serious precautions without consulting a doctor.
People who suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome almost never seek medical attention because they fear that what is afflicting them will not be taken seriously. Don’t compromise your quality of health because you are scared of the stigma associated with your condition. If you are constantly bothered by the symptoms above, do not feel the need to invalidate what you are going through.
What to expect when consulting your doctor
Your doctor will most likely conduct either a physical or a neurological exam to rule out other possible medical conditions. Blood exams are conducted so your doctor can determine if your RLS symptoms are brought upon by an iron deficiency. Doctors will suggest changing certain behaviors in your routine, they may prescribe you medication or suggest you consult the help of a specialist.
Restless Leg Syndrome – Treatments
Even though Restless Leg Syndrome is considered a chronic conditions, symptoms can be manageable. Either behavioral changes to one’s lifestyle, therapeutic treatments and/ or medication can help combat symptoms.
Restless Leg Syndrome – Behavioral Changes:
- Exercise – Moderate amounts of cardio, such as walking or riding a bike, a couple times of week can help relieve symptoms.
- Managing Stress – High amounts of stress in a person’s daily life can exacerbate RLS symptoms. Attempt practicing different types of relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation or mindfulness-based stress reduction. Practicing any of these before bed can calm your central nervous system, leading to a more relaxing sleep.
- Relaxing muscles – Massaging your legs or soaking in a warm, tranquil bath can ease the tension in your leg muscles, decreasing RLS sensations.
- Reducing Caffeine and Alcohol consumption – Both of these substances can overstimulate your system and induce RLS symptoms. Decreasing in their consumption is not only better for getting rid of the symptoms, but can improve your overall health.
Restless Leg Syndrome – Therapies
Another alternative is to seek the help of a specialist sleep specialist. There are a wide variety of approaches a sleep specialist may try in order to combat RLS. Try keeping a journal so you are able to record every symptom you experience relating to your RLS in both day and night. A sleep specialist will conduct a sleep study, formally called a polysomnogram, which will evaluate your sleep patterns/behaviors and diagnose RLS or whatever sleep disorder is affecting you.
Seeking the help of a psychotherapist or group therapy can help with the management of your condition. A therapist can help rationalize the frustrations caused by RLS and help teach you techniques to better adapt to your condition.
Restless Leg Syndrome – Medications
Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about the severity of your symptoms. If your doctor has a more detailed account of the symptoms you face on a daily basis, he will be able to better equip you with the proper medication and treatment plan in order to combat your symptoms.
RLS symptoms are occasionally generated from other conditions, getting proper treatment for another medical condition can alleviate symptoms. When medications are paired with other forms of treatment (either behavioral or therapeutic) it can effectively reduce the negative effects caused by restless leg syndrome. RLS medications can cause adverse side effects, so please do not take anything without the supervision of your doctor. If you are pregnant and experience RLS symptoms, do not take medication for relief.
Types of medications prescribed by doctors that can help with Restless Leg Syndrome:
- Dopaminergic Drugs- Dopaminergic drugs are simply drugs that release and/or involve the neurotransmitter Dopamine. Under this classification, these medications either increase neural levels of the dopamine or mimic it. General side effects from taking these types of medications are usually mild and include; nausea, fatigue, and feelings of lightheadedness.
- Sleep Medications- Sleep medications do not necessarily relieve RLS symptoms rather they help you fall asleep faster and provide a better quality of sleep than one would normally get. This type of medication may lead to drowsiness during the day.
- Anticonvulsants or Anti-seizure medications- These medications help relieve chronic pain, nerve pain, and RLS symptoms.
- Alpha2 Agonist- Alpha2 Agonist stimulate receptors in the brain stem, which then proceeds to influence nerve cells that control involuntary muscle movements to decrease their activity, ultimately decreasing the production of RLS sensations.
- Opiates- Opiates are not only used to help relieve pain symptoms, they can also be effective for decreasing RLS symptoms. Opiates are not commonly prescribed for treatment because opiates themselves have a reputation of being very addictive substances. They are normally prescribed as an alternative when all other options fail.
Tips on how to deal with Restless Leg Syndrome
There are also some simple actions you can take to help relieve symptoms.
- Get moving – Increase circulation and blood flow in your legs by moving them any chance you get. Walk to a nearby destination instead of driving, jog in place for a few minutes, take a break when you are at work or school and relieve your legs by doing a walk around your desk. Any extra mobility you can squeeze into your daily routine will help substantially.
- Stretch – Another way to relieve RLS pain is to incorporate stretching into your daily routine. Any sort of stretching has numerous benefits such as; relieving stress, improving mood, increasing blood flow to the muscles, improving posture, relieving pain, and much more. An example of this would be doing a bit of yoga once you first wake up in the morning. RLS symptoms act up if you remain still for long periods of time, so think one step ahead of the symptoms and stretch whenever possible, so you can get your leg muscles moving.
- Ditch the caffeine and monitor your diet – Caffeine and excess amounts of sugar tend to overstimulate our system so too much of either of these can provoke RLS symptoms. Try decaf or ditching coffee altogether. Make sure you are also consuming a balanced diet. Take a multivitamin and start eating non-processed foods provide your body with helpful nutrients.
- Decrease alcohol consumption – Alcohol intake can make RLS symptoms worse, so go easy on the alcohol.
- Change your sleeping habits – Make sure you go to sleep and wake up generally around the same time every day. Keep your sleeping area quiet and dark and turn off any screens before bed. Laptops and TV emit blue light which keeps you awake and your brain active. Improving your sleeping habits doesn’t get rid of your RLS altogether but improving your quality of sleep can lessen the impact RLS has on your daily life.
Genevieve is a recent college graduate from the University at Albany, where she studied Psychology and Neuroscience. Genevieve was involved in the CAFE Project, a research lab affliatied with the University at Albany. CAFE Project was focused on family and community violence experienced in childhood and the effects on long term adjustment, as well as MBSR techniques and the benefits they have on reduction of psychophysiology. Genevieve also worked as a Behavioral Therapist for early intervention programs helpful for teaching developmental milestones for children who have ASD. Currently, she is involved in an Evolutionary Psychology lab through State University of New York at New Paltz. She plans to go to graduate school in Fall 2019.