Restless Leg Syndrome

You may be so tired at night you literally melt into the bed, snuggle under the covers and get ready to experience a restful night’s sleep. Then you realize your legs have something else in mind. You’re not in control of your legs anymore because they keep moving against your will. This is restless leg syndrome and it can lead to many sleepless nights.

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS or Willis-Ekbom disease-WED) is a neurological disorder which can be treated. RLS is an actual medical condition which translates to more of a nuisance than a health risk. But, if the condition continues, you can develop full blown insomnia – and is a risk to your health. Even if it doesn’t affect your overall health, you may suffer from sleepiness at work and school and be so fatigued even your personal relationships may suffer.

RLS is more common than you might think. RLS causes you to have uncontrollable urges in your legs which set off some other symptoms which you might feel at the same time: a pulling or tugging on your leg(s) or like something is creeping up your leg. Symptoms can also include a tingly sensation which is felt inside rather than on the skin, and the sensation is usually felt the same in both legs.

There are five symptoms to look for if you think you might have RLS:

  1. Your symptoms are not noticeable during the day but during the evening or night time your legs become extremely worse
  2. You feel your legs getting worse when you are resting or inactive. Lying down or sitting for long periods of time can worsen the situation.
  3. If you become active, jump out of bed or get up from your chair and walk around, your symptoms subside or go away.
  4. You feel that unless you get up and move your legs, you have unpleasant and uncomfortable sensation in your legs.
  5. If other conditions have been eliminated such as leg cramps, arthritis or leg swelling, you might have RLS. This condition can also not allow you to stay asleep because of the pain your legs are causing.

There is not currently a cure for RLS. There are ways, though, to lessen the pain or symptoms should they arise. There are medications, lifestyle changes, and self-care options to pursue if you have RLS.

Here are a few things you can look into or check which may relieve your mind:

  • Do you have an iron deficiency?
  • Check your other medications (prescription, over-the-counter or herbal) to make sure they are not triggering RLS
  • Be mindful of your activities and see if anything makes the situation worse. Keep a journal to log your RLS episodes.
  • Are you eating a healthy and well-balanced diet?
  • Do you drink alcohol after 6pm?
  • Do you exercise regularly? Even an hour of walking, massage, stretching, taking a bath or relaxation techniques can help alleviate symptoms.
  • Keeping your mind occupied while you are sitting. Do things such as talking, crossword puzzles, playing games on your computer, etc. Anything to take your mind off of the thoughts of an RLS episode occurring.
  • Do you have good sleep habits?
  • Make a plan to deal with the RLS once it strikes.

Unfortunately, there is a gene that runs through families which can cause you to end up with RLS. It is called familial RLS. And, approximately twenty percent of women develop RLS during a pregnancy. Fortunately, most of the time their RLS symptoms will disappear after giving birth.

Anemia is another trigger point. If you have low iron levels this can contribute to or worsen RLS. ADHD is common if a child or an adult has RLS.

There are several medications to treat RLS including dopaminergic agents, sedatives, and alpha-2-delta ligands.

Some of the FDA approved drugs in the dopaminergic agents group include: Sinemet/Restix, Mirapex, Requip, and Neupro.*

Some sedatives you can look for to improve your sleep are: Lunesta, Restoril, Sonata and Ambien.

Alpha-2-Delta Ligands include: Horizant, Meurontin, Lyrica.

Pain relievers (opiates) include: Codeine, Vicodin, Methadone, Morphine, Percocet, Roxicodone, OxyContin and Ultram. *Although, be advised that long term use of opiates can lead to dependence!*

Again, always check with your physician before starting any drug regiment and to see if the drugs listed here are still available.

Living with RLS can be accomplished if you use smart strategies surrounding the disorder. Keep a diary, occupy your mind, stand at work (raise your desk if permissible), and also try to include some stretches during the day.

You may be more apt to develop RLS if the condition runs in your family, if you have diabetes, are pregnant or suffer from a neurological disorder. Iron-deficiency anemia and kidney disease are also conditions which can cause RLS.

If you suffer from any of these symptoms, a simple blood test will let you know if you have a condition needing treatment.

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