What Is Restless Legs Syndrome?
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is most easily defined as: A neurological condition that inhibits daily activity and nightly comfort by causing the legs to feel jumpy and crawly, and encouraging an urge to move the legs around - medically known as akathisia. The effects of RLS can range in severity from uncomfortable to irritating to painful. RLS affects 3-15% of the population, or at least 12 million Americans, regardless of age or sex. Many cases go undiagnosed, as sufferers do not understand the condition, or doctors do not take it seriously enough. RLS is often blamed on stress or lack of sleep, which are actually results of RLS. Likely causes include deficiencies, heredity, certain conditions or diseases, or a lack of basic nutrition.
- Heredity: Nearly 50% of cases are seemingly genetic. These cases tend to become evident at an early age, and progress slowly.
- Dopamine Imbalance: This brain chemical sends messages to control muscle movement.
- Pregnancy: Probably triggered by hormonal changes of the third trimester, symptoms generally stop within a month after delivery.
- Iron Deficiency: With or without anemia, iron deficiencies have been linked to RLS.
- Diseases or Conditions: Kidney failure, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and peripheral neuropathy can lessen iron absorption or damage nerves, encouraging RLS.
- Drugs and Medications: Certain medicated drugs are thought to aggravate symptoms.
- Lacking Nutrition: Whether or not there is an underlying condition, poor nutrition can lead to symptoms of RLS.
- Stress: Not technically a cause, stress can worsen RLS symptoms.
RLS becomes evident in a variety of symptoms. While they are not necessarily dangerous or even painful, they are annoying, and disruptive to daily routine. Symptoms can include:
- Creeping, itching, pulling, gnawing, jittering, tingling, burning, deep-seated, or aching sensations in the calves, thighs, or even feet and arms.
- Uncontrollable urge to move the legs.
- PLMS/PLMD- Periodic Limb Movements of Sleep (or Periodic Limb Movement Disorder), is the involuntary flexing and extending of legs during sleep, and can occur hundreds of times throughout the night. Common among people with RLS, it may happen during waking hours in severe cases.
RLS symptoms occur at specific times. The odd sensations and desires to move begin during long periods of stillness, like at work, in the car, or on an airplane. Leg movement by stretching or walking lessens these symptoms. More difficult is the common on-set of symptoms while falling asleep. Moving might reduce such discomfort, but inevitably disrupts sleep, causing drowsiness and stress. If a case of RLS is traced to a separate, underlying condition, the treatment of the condition itself generally relieves the signs of RLS. Still, it is a good idea to take a supplement that can relieve symptoms and maximize comfort. For RLS that has no known cause (idiopathic), treatment is aimed at the specific symptoms:
- Regulation of sleep and moderate exercise patterns
- Supplementation of iron, folate, or magnesium deficiencies
- Avoidance of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco
- Hot bath and massage
- Hot or cold packs on legs
- Medication such as nervous system depressants, sleep aids, or pain killers
- Mental alertness in the evenings
- Dietary supplementation with nutrition aimed at RLS symptoms
Although RLS is a lifelong condition with no true cure, it is not indicative of a more serious neurological disease. A consistent nutrition supplement is often all the help that is needed, and people with RLS generally live normal, healthy lives.