Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a disorder of the nervous system. Patients with RLS have uncomfortable feelings in their legs. Patients say it feels like something is crawling under their skin and others describe it as pain, itching and pins and needles. These feelings only occur when patients are resting, mostly in the evenings and during sleep. When sleeping , leg twitching is common. These unpleasant feelings go away when people move their legs. Patients with RLS have a strong urge to keep moving their legs.
About 1 in 10 people have RLS and it mostly affects middle-aged people. It worsens with age and more women than men are afflicted with this condition.
Upon visiting your medical provider, diagnosis is based on 4 questions.
If you answer yes to the next 4 questions you will be diagnosed with RLS:
1. Do you have the urge to move your legs because of unpleasant feelings in them?
2. Does the urge to move increase if you are resting or sitting down?
3. Do the unpleasant feelings decrease or go away when you move your legs?
4. Are the unpleasant feelings and the urge to move worse in the evening and night?
What causes RLS?
RLS can be caused by genetics, which is called Primary RLS. If the RLS is related to another condition, it is called Secondary RLS. Some conditions that can cause RLS are kidney disease, low iron levels, anemia, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Your health care provider may order lab tests to check for these conditions. Medications can also be a cause of Secondary RLS. Medications taken for depression, colds, allergies, and nausea can worsen symptoms. RLS has also been linked to lack of exercise, caffeine, smoking, alcohol, and anxiety.
There is no cure for RLS, but there are 3 medications available to help ease the unpleasant feelings. Some medications that are used to treat seizures or Parkinson’s disease have been found useful in treating RLS. It may take trial and error to see which one works best for you.
Regular exercise using your legs is recommended 30 to 60 minutes daily. Reducing caffeine and alcohol may help along with quitting smoking
What can I do to cope?
There are some strategies that may help deal with symptoms:
- Try to find activities that take your mind off your symptoms
- Wrap your legs when sleeping with others
- If possible, raise your desk-top so you can work and read standing up
- Begin and end each day with stretching
- Consider joining a support group
- When possible, take the stairs. Park your car further to increase walking
- Taking hot or cold showers may reduce symptoms
- Rubbing cream on your legs before bed may help
- Applying pressure with light massage may help
- When traveling, take morning flights and move around on the plane
Where can I get more information?
The Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation (www.rls.org) provides lots of good information, including support groups.
- Vanessa Andricola, Pharm D.