Restless legs syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a condition that causes an uncomfortable sensation in the legs resulting in an uncontrollable urge to move the legs. Most commonly, the symptoms are felt during the evening or nighttime hours when a person is sitting or lying down. Movement oftentimes temporarily eases these unpleasant feeling. RLS can begin at any age and generally worsens with age. This urge to move can not only disrupt one’s sleep, it can also interfere with daily activities in its most severe form.
Simple lifestyle modifications have been found to help mitigate symptoms to a degree. Medications may also help many people with RLS. An often overlooked treatment is to address any potential underlying medical conditions such as iron deficiency anemia and vein disease when present.
The chief complaint is an annoying urge to move the legs. The most commonly reported characteristics of RLS include:
- Symptoms worsen in the evening.Symptoms appear to be worse at night.
- Sensations start to increase with rest.Uncomfortable sensations in the legs begin to increase after you've been lying down or sitting for an extended time, such as in a car, airplane or movie theater.
- Nighttime leg twitching.RLS sufferers may find that their legs will start to twitch and kick, often throughout the night while they are sleeping. This is very similar to a more common condition called periodic limb movement of sleep which has been associated with RLS.
- Relief with movement.The sensations associated with RLS tend to decrease with movement, such as walking, jiggling of the legs, stretching, and or any other form of activity that results in leg movement.
People typically describe RLS symptoms as abnormal, unpleasant sensations in their legs or feet. They usually happen on both sides of the body. Similar sensations have also been reported in the upper extremities but appear to be much less frequent.
The most common RLS sensations of note are:
- Ants crawling
- Electric tingling
Many RLS suffers find the sensations difficult to describe. Rarely do people with RLS describe a sensation paralleling a muscle cramp or a numbing sensation. They do, however, uniformly report a desire to move their legs which they find lessens these uncomfortable sensations. It's also not uncommon for symptoms to fluctuate in magnitude and severity over time. They may reportedly even disappear for periods of time, then come back.
When to see a doctor
RLS, I believe, is vastly underreported. Since RLS is known to progress over time, most people actually experience a spectrum of symptoms ranging from a minor itch to the more severe complaints that ultimately impact sleep and overall quality of life. For that reason, most people with RLS probably never actually seek medical attention. Most people probably don’t even realize they have a medical condition. They probably just think they are imagining things and are worried that their healthcare provider will think the same, or they just see the symptoms as a sign of aging. Not until the RLS sensations start to interfere with their sleep, cause daytime drowsiness, and or start to affect your quality of life, do they bring these issues up to their healthcare provider.
The underlying cause for RLS is really unknown. Many researchers and healthcare providers alike are of the belief that RLS is of a neurologic origin and thus a type of neurologic syndrome. Some researchers suspect the condition may even parallel a more familiar medical condition called Parkinson’s disease whereby there is an imbalance in the amount of dopamine in the brain, which sends messages to control one’s muscle movement.
RLS appears to run in families, especially if the condition starts before age 40. Researchers have identified sites on the chromosomes where genes for RLS may be present.
Pregnancy or hormonal changes have been shown to temporarily worsen RLS symptoms in some people. Some women will report RLS symptoms for the first time during their pregnancy, especially during their last trimester. However, symptoms usually diminish or disappear during the postpartum period.
RLS can develop at any age, even during childhood. The disorder is more common with increasing age and more common in women than in men. Fortunately, RLS does not appear to be associated with any serious underlying medical conditions. However, it can accompany other conditions, such as:
- Peripheral neuropathy.This medical condition is often caused by chronic diseases such as diabetes and alcoholism but can be idiopathic in nature. The condition stems from a damaged or persistent irritation to the nerves in your hands and or feet resulting in an often progressively worsening numbness in the affected limbs.
- Vein disease.This is an underlying medical condition most commonly known as varicose vein disease. Vein disease is an underappreciated medical condition that is most commonly seen as a cosmetic condition but in fact it is a circulatory defect. As in the case with RLS, vein disease is an inherited disease that is progressive in nature. The more prevalent the vein disease, the higher the incidence of RLS like symptoms in the affected individual.
- Iron deficiency.Even in the absence of anemia, iron deficiency can cause or worsen RLS. It is a medical condition often seen in people with a history of heavy menstrual bleeding, occult gastrointestinal bleeding, or repeatedly donate blood.
- Kidney failure.Individuals suffering from chronic renal disease are often anemic for a multitude of reasons. Iron deficiency is one such reason. When the kidneys are not functioning properly, systems normally regulated by the kidneys, are not functioning optimally. This can result in the decrease in the body’s iron stores resulting in the development of or worsening of RLS symptoms.
- Spinal cord conditions.Damage or injury to the spinal cord of any form, has been linked to RLS. Any form of lesion on the spinal cord caused by damage or injury will affect normal spinal cord function. When severe, an injury specific neurological symptom like RLS may result.
Although RLS doesn't lead to other serious conditions, symptoms can range from infrequent and minimal to daily and incapacitating. Many people with severe RLS may find it extremely difficult to fall or stay asleep at times, resulting in a marked impairment in a person’s overall quality of life. The inability to attain quality sleep, will eventually take a toll in the form of excessive daytime drowsiness, and even depression. You do not have to live like this. Call 314.842.1441 today and talk to the experts at STL Vein and Cosmetics to set up your free consultation. RLS does not go away on its own. Take your first steps towards a healthier and more comfortable life.