Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder that causes unpleasant sensations in the legs with an uncontrollable urge to move them especially at night when a person is at rest. It is estimated about 10 percent of the United States population could have RLS. Studies reveal chronic diseases such as diabetes could be the cause of RLS.
- Restless leg syndrome is characterized by sensations in the legs such as pulling, throbbing or creeping. These uncomfortable sensations give people the urge to move their legs especially at night when they are at rest or relaxing. Lying down and trying to unwind are activities that aggravate the symptoms. Moving the legs helps to relieve discomfort. If left untreated people can become exhausted. They may suffer from chronic fatigue with an impaired memory, inability to concentrate. They may find it difficult to travel. Some people may have feelings of depression. Symptoms of RLS should be discussed with a doctor immediately.
- RLS is referred to as a movement disorder since people move their legs to get relief. It occurs in men and women but the incidence is almost twice as high in women. Most people who are affected are middle-aged or older. Up to 80 percent of people with RLS have periodic limb movement of sleep (PLMS) with involuntary leg twitching or jerking movements throughout the night. Symptoms of RLS may go into remission for weeks or months but they tend to reappear and become more severe over time. Consulting with a physician is the first step in the right direction.
- RLS may have a genetic component and is frequently found in families where the onset of symptoms occurs before age 40. Low levels of iron in the brain may also be a cause of RLS. Researchers have found chronic diseases such as diabetes, kidney failure and peripheral neuropathy could cause RLS. Certain medications may aggravate the symptoms of RLS. They include antipsychotic drugs, cold and allergy medications with sedating antihistamines as well as antidepressants and anti-nausea drugs. Pregnant women in the last trimester may experience symptoms of RLS which usually disappears within 4 weeks after delivery. Sleep deprivation and alcohol may aggravate symptoms for some people.
- There is no specific test for RLS. The disorder is diagnosed based on sensory symptoms and whether people find relief through movement. Sometimes a neurological exam is conducted. The physician will inquire about family history, request a list of current medications and ask about sleep habits and patterns. Blood tests may be done to detect iron or vitamin deficiencies. Sleep studies could be conducted to record the individual’s leg movements, heartbeat and breathing during the night.
- RLS may be treated by controlling and treating a medical condition such as diabetes or peripheral neuropathy. Lifestyle changes might be recommended such as minimizing your intake of caffeine and alcohol. Supplements could be suggested including magnesium, iron and folate. Certain medications may help but no single medication is known to effectively manage RLS for everyone. There is no cure for RLS but therapies can help to control it.
- Non-drug RLS treatments may include hot baths, heating pads or ice packs applied to the legs, good sleeping habits and leg massages. It helps to exercise each day to improve circulation and reduce the risk of neuropathy. Start by taking a daily walk for 10- 20 minutes. Wear an Omron pedometer to gauge your progress so you can go a little further each day.
- People with type 2 diabetes may develop RLS. If diabetes is not properly controlled, it can lead to nerve damage due to high glucose levels in the blood. This may damage small blood vessels that supply the nerves. This can lead to peripheral neuropathy, which may cause tingling and numbness in the feet, hands and legs. Work with a health care team to keep diabetes under control through regular exercise, proper diet and medication as recommended.
People with diabetes should be aware of the symptoms of RLS and have an effective self-management plan for controlling diabetes. It is crucial to discuss RLS symptoms with a doctor at the onset to avoid peripheral neuropathy and other possible health complications. Lifestyle changes, regular exercise and medication may help relieve the symptoms for people with RLS.
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