RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME
Are you tired of being tired? Tired of your twitching, uncomfortable legs making it impossible to fall asleep easily? Tired of Restless Leg Syndrome interfering with your ability to get a good night’s sleep, enjoy a long movie, or relax on the beach?
WHAT IS RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME?
Have you ever been lying in bed, falling asleep, and suddenly start feeling an uncontrollable urge to move and twitch your legs? This sensation is what we today call Restless Leg Syndrome, and it affects as many as one in ten adults in the US.
Restless Leg Syndrome (also called RLS or Willis-Ekbom disease) affects your nervous system. though it doesn’t always indicate a serious problem the nervous system.
RLS comes in many forms and has many causes and is therefore used as an umbrella term for a variety of symptoms, including:
- Uncontrollable urges to move the legs
- General discomfort in the legs
- Cramps, especially in the calves
Typically, someone with Restless Leg Syndrome complains about the problem affecting them most at night, and it resolves with movement and flexing of the legs over a period of time.
For some people, RLS is a daily interruption, while others may only feel moderate symptoms once a week or every other week.
WHAT COULD BE CAUSING MY RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME?
Quite often, RLS is considered an “idiopathic” condition, meaning the root cause is never discovered or known. However, there are some medical conditions that have been directly linked to RLS, such as:
Vein disease, such as Chronic Venous Insufficiency (as with varicose veins)
PRIMARY RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME
In the majority of cases, the exact cause of restless leg syndrome cannot be determined. This is called primary restless leg syndrome.
Research has linked this primary form to specific genes that can be transmitted from parents to children. In such cases the symptoms of restless leg syndrome appear before the age of 40.
SECONDARY RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME
Secondary restless leg syndrome is when the disease is caused by another underlying disease or health factor.
Pregnancy – It tends to appear during the last trimester. The symptoms usually disappear a month after giving birth
Anemia caused by Iron Deficiency – Low Iron levels in the blood can cause low levels of dopamine, and subsequently restless leg syndrome
Chronic conditions: Diabetes, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s Disease, Chronic Kidney Failure, Hypothyroidism
Chronic Venous Insufficiency – the symptoms of this disease often overlap and can be accompanied by those of restless leg syndrome
WHO IS MOST OFTEN AFFECTED BY RESTLESS LEG SYNDROME?
- The sufferers of RLS tend to be women.
- RLS tends to begin showing symptoms in middle age.
- Symptoms of RLS grow worse or more frequent as the patient ages.
- Some people have a history of RLS in their family, in which case symptoms could start in childhood.
- People who suffer from Periodic Limb Movements during Sleep (PLMS) frequently also have Restless Leg Syndrome.
- People with vein disease, such as varicose veins, spider veins, or undiagnosed Chronic Venous Insufficiency tend to have restless legs.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I NEED TO SEE A DOCTOR ABOUT MY RESTLESS LEGS?
Restless Leg Syndrome interrupts your daily routine, but more often, the sensations usually at night, ruining your rest. If your discomfort is more than an occasional nuisance and is ruining your rest, see a doctor to determine if you have any serious underlying medical conditions that could be treated in order for your restless leg symptoms to be resolved.
Most sufferers of Restless Leg Syndrome have the idiopathic condition, and the root cause is never discovered/explained. This also means that the symptoms never progress into revealing a serious medical condition, like diabetes or Parkinson’s disease.
However, RLS can worsen if you have an underlying medical condition that goes untreated.
If your leg discomforts come on regularly during exercise, it is probably not RLS. It could be a symptom of underlying vascular issues. If you have muscle cramping while walking short distances, but recover with rest, this may indicate arterial disease. Today, doctors have many minimally-invasive ways to test for arterial disease.
If you also experience weakness, pale skin pallor, light-headedness, cold hands and feet, or shortness of breath, you should see a doctor right away for potential iron deficiencyor a heart/circulation condition.
If your restless legs are caused by diabetes, you’ll feel thirsty often as well as urinate often. Blurry vision is another symptom of diabetes. If any of these are occurring, you should see a doctor.
If restless legs are your only symptom, it’s not likely that Parkinson’s Disease is the cause. Parkinson’s Disease typically starts with tremors in the hands and other parts of the body, rigidity of muscles, loss of balance, and difficulty maintaining posture. If you are starting to experience tremors and restlessness in other parts of your body than your legs, see a doctor.
If your discomfort happens almost nightly, you could be suffering from vein disease. If your leg veins are experiencing reflux, it means that the valves in your veins that keep blood flowing in a single direction are malfunctioning. Blood can pool and clot in pockets of your veins, causing pain, cramps, discoloration, and even swelling. Since the ‘used’ blood that is filled with waste products like carbon dioxide is not being carried away, your muscles cramp and feel additional pressure.
The symptoms of venous disease range from very obvious bulging veins, ankle swelling, skin changes, blood clots, bleeding veins and spider veins to only subtle symptoms of mild cramping or itching.
For these reasons, it’s important for you to check with your doctor about potential causes of your leg cramps.
Suffering with undiagnosed vein disease or venous reflux could be the root cause of your restless nights and painful days.
Many times, vein disease can be detected with a simple ultrasound and treated in as little as 30 minutes to an hour, quite painlessly. See our full list of Vein Treatments to learn more about treatments that range from compression and elevation to surgical removal of diseased veins.
HOW CAN MY DOCTOR DIAGNOSE THE CAUSE OF MY LEG DISCOMFORT?
Sometimes, restless legs can be difficult to diagnose – some cramping sensations are completely natural and resolve on their own. However, if your discomfort is chronic and interrupting your quality of life, your doctor can perform a physical examination.
Blood tests can check your vitamin and mineral levels to ensure the right balance for muscle function and circulation. Your thyroid and kidney function can be checked with the same blood test to ensure proper functioning levels.
A test called an electromyography can specifically test for muscle abnormalities and activity. This test involves placing electrodes along the muscles to be tested and observing/interpreting the output from a recording machine while you move your legs according to the doctor’s instructions.
A test called a myelograph can give your doctor a clear image of your spinal cord to ensure proper health and function. This test involves receiving an injection of contrast dye before receiving a series of xray/radiograph images.
An ultrasound can be used to evaluate the condition of your leg veins for various types of vein disease.
ARE THERE SELF-CARE TREATMENTS FOR RESTLESS LEGS?
There are a few ways of relieving the pain and tightness.
Reduce your caffeine intake.
Reduce your alcohol and tobacco intake intake.
Increase your water intake.
Increase your vitamin and mineral intake: calcium, magnesium, and potassium deficiency often cause muscle cramps.
Develop good stretching habits every day to release muscle tension.
Increase your routine exercise: simply walking for 20-30 minutes a day can significantly reduce leg spasms and cramps.
Soaking in a warm bath can soothe muscle tightness.