What is Restless Legs Syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a disorder of the part of the nervous system that causes throbbing, pulling and other kinds of unpleasant sensations in the lower legs and feet. This generates an uncontrollable urge to move the legs. Because of this, people with restless legs syndrome find it difficult to sleep or stay relaxed.

A survey revealed that 10 percent of the U.S. population may have RLS. It affects up to 3% of adults. It is common among both men and women, although it is more prevalent in women.

Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome

RLS sensations are triggered when one is at rest, such as sitting for an extended period of time or lying down. They are most often described as feeling like:

Those with RLS find temporary relief through leg movement: pacing, walking, jiggling the legs, stretching and flexing, rubbing the legs and tossing and turning in bed. In most cases, the symptoms are worse at night and better during the early hours of the morning. Other things that can trigger restless legs syndrome are long car trips or long distance flights, sitting in a movie theater, and other sedentary activities.

The symptoms of restless legs syndrome can vary in severity and frequency from one individual to another, and even change over time. Sometimes, the individual with RLS can have a break from the symptoms over a period of weeks or months before it resurfaces again.

Causes of Restless Legs Syndrome

The causes of restless legs syndrome are not known in most cases. However, it can be related to the following conditions:

  1. Health-related conditions such as diabetes, kidney failure, and peripheral neuropathy.
  2. Some medications that can increase the symptoms, such as anti-nausea drugs, antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants that can increase serotonin and cold and allergy drugs.
  3. Pregnancy can also cause restless legs syndrome, especially in the last trimester. But, the symptoms normally disappear with a few weeks of delivery.

Treatment of Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome symptoms can be remedied by moving the affected leg to provide temporary relief. Finding the underlying causes associated with a medical condition such as diabetes or peripheral neuropathy can help to control the condition, especially at nighttime, when movement is unwanted.

Some people find that making lifestyle changes, such as reducing the intake of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco can help to reduce the symptoms. Some individuals also see an improvement from taking supplements such as iron, folate and magnesium. Maintaining a regular pattern of sleep, moderate exercise, massaging the legs, taking hot baths and using a heating pad or ice pack can also be beneficial.

Your doctor may prescribe medications such as dopaminergic agents, Benzodiazepines, Opioids, and anticonvulsants to treat the symptoms of RLS. However, regular use of these medications may lessen their effectiveness over time. Therefore, your doctor may recommend a change in your medication from time to time.

Should I see a podiatrist?

If you are experiencing strange, persistent sensations in the legs and feet, you may be suffering from RLS. Check with your doctor if your symptoms are consistent with the description above. If you are experiencing numbness, pain, inflammation or cramping in the feet and ankles, you may be suffering from a different form of peripheral neuropathy or a foot injury. If this is the case, schedule an appointment with Gabriel Maislos, DPM, FACFAS at Houston Foot and Ankle Care for an evaluation. Call (713) 541-3199 to get started. Same-day and next day appointments are available.

Author
Houston Foot and Ankle

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