Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless Legs Syndrome or RLS is a common disorders that gives a person the feeling that their legs are crawling, tingling, pulling, or painful.  These feelings can occur anywhere in the leg from the ankle to the thigh, on one leg individually, or on both legs together.  The discomfort tends to get worse as the day progresses so that by the end of the day, the feelings can become nearly unbearable.  The tingling may occur when somebody either sits or lies down for a period of time.  Sitting at a desk, at a theater, or down to dinner are typical situations where restless legs syndrome can occur.  In many cases, rubbing the legs, moving, walking, or messaging them can bring some relief - although only partial.

Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation WebsiteDuring periods of relaxation and inactivity, the symptoms of restless legs syndrome can worsen.  If you find it difficult to fall asleep or if you have a strange urge to walk or move the legs in order to relieve strange feelings of discomfort, then you may be suffering from restless legs syndrome.  These feelings can vary from night to night, and generally get worse as we get older.

Periodic Limb Movements in Sleep (PLMS)

Many people with restless legs syndrome also have Periodic Limb Movements in Sleep or PLMS.  People with PLMS will involuntarily jerk their legs at night, or bend their legs repeatedly sometimes as often as every few seconds to every few minutes.  Their bed partners may find themselves being awakened by these movements, frequently being kicked or otherwise disturbed by these involuntary, regular movements. 

People with PLMS and restless legs syndrome usually have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep which can cause them to have significant sleepiness during the day.  Just as with sleep apnea, patients can have difficulty staying awake on their job, driving cars long distances, and fall asleep while talking to other people.

Causes of Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

RLS can be caused by many different diseases - or sometimes may seem to be a problem with no obvious source.  Some of the diseases that have been shown to be associated with RLS are as follows,

Who Typically gets RLS?

RLS is more common among older people, but is not limited to the elderly.  It is as common in men as in women but can also be seen in children.  Children who have RLS are often thought of as being hyperactive because they are unable to keep their legs still. and can't be quiet in class.  When pain is a serious problem, children may be diagnosed as having "growing pains" when in reality the discomfort they are feeling in their legs is due to RLS.

Treatment for RLS

Mild RLS may not need any medication; sometimes just taking a hot bath or messaging the legs, exercising, eliminating caffeine or using ice packs may provide significant relief.  Medications can be prescribed for patients to control symptoms for those with more severe disease.  Some medications may lose their effectiveness over time and need to be adjusted in order to maintain effectiveness.  Your physician may want to alternate several different medications in order to prevent you from having to rely on one that is needing higher and higher doses.

Medications for RLS

Periodic Limb Movements of Sleep is often a surprise to patients who recognize they have discomfort in their legs during their waking hours, but are totally unaware that they jerk their legs throughout the night.  This frequent leg jerking results in sleep arousals so that they never get into a deep, regenerating sleep and feel very sleepy and tired during the daytime.  They can be easily diagnosed with a sleep test, allowing the physician to prescribe medication or other effective treatments to reduce their adverse effect upon sleep.

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