Restless leg syndrome (RLS) affects about 10% of people in the U.S. It is a rough estimate since many people with this neurological condition are unaware that their irritating symptoms do have a name.
It is often dismissed as a mild irritation, but severe cases can be quite disturbing and, sometimes, downright painful. Since the episodes mostly happen while the person is resting or sleeping, it affects sleep quality, and consequently, daytime functioning, including alertness during driving and operating heavy machinery.
It is rather tricky to diagnose restless leg syndrome correctly since the symptoms are not present all the time. It is nearly impossible to replicate them in a doctor’s clinic because they appear only when a person is resting or sleeping.
Although some people may have the characteristic sensations even when they rest during the day, they are usually milder and may not be apparent to others. However, they worsen towards the evening and become severe at night.
The diagnosis is based on the patient’s description of the symptoms, rather than any laboratory tests or imaging techniques. Self-diagnosis is really important since you can recognize the characteristic symptoms early enough and try some natural fixes. It can also help you overrule or get treated for other medical conditions with similar symptoms.
Check whether you have any of these characteristic symptoms of restless leg syndrome:
1. The uncomfortable feeling in the legs accompanied by an irresistible urge to flex or move them.
2. Temporary relief from the uneasy feeling when you move your legs.
3. The symptoms get worse when you are resting or sleeping.
4. The symptoms increase towards the evening.
5. You have difficulty falling asleep because of the symptoms or they awaken you from sleep.
Of these, the first four symptoms are essential for a clinical diagnosis of restless leg syndrome. If the fifth symptom is also present, you should get medical attention as soon as possible because chronic sleep disruption and insomnia can increase the risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disorders, and depression.
The strange feeling in the legs is often described as a creeping or pulling sensation, an itch that you cannot scratch, a dull but persistent ache, or even pain. Despite the name, restless leg syndrome is not exclusive to legs; it can affect hands, neck, and even the whole body. A large percentage of restless leg syndrome sufferers have another condition called periodic limb movements in sleep (PLMS), which can disrupt their sleep as well as disturb their sleep partners.
Who is at risk of Restless leg syndrome…
Gender – It affects both sexes, but women are more susceptible. Pregnancy increases the risk, but some women who have restless leg syndrome during pregnancy may experience a complete cure or long-term remission soon after delivery.
Age – restless leg syndrome is more prevalent in people older than 40 years, but in many of these cases, people would have had occasional symptoms in their 20s. Even very young children can have restless leg syndrome.
Lifestyle – Nicotine may precipitate restless leg syndrome symptoms or worsen them, probably because it inhibits sleep. Habitual alcohol use also has a similar effect. A sedentary lifestyle also is a risk factor.
Food/drugs – Foods containing caffeine and medications used for treating a number of psychological and physical disorders can cause restless leg syndrome or worsen the symptoms. The list includes sedatives, antidepressants, antihistamines taken for allergies, and opioids used for pain relief.
Other medical conditions – People who have diabetes, obesity, anemia, Parkinson’s disease, or peripheral neuropathy are more likely to have restless leg syndrome.
Genetics – The majority of people with restless leg syndrome have a genetic history. Several genes are found to carry this risk, and people with restless leg syndrome often have other family members or relatives suffering from it.
Treatment of Restless leg syndrome
Conventional medicine holds the view that restless leg syndrome has no cure, but that the symptoms can be managed with different drugs depending on their severity. You may be advised to take over-the-counter analgesics like acetaminophen or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, ketoprofen or naproxen to ease the pain. Muscle relaxants may be prescribed to reduce the sensations in the leg and sleeping pills to help you get some sleep. Narcotics are sometimes given if the pain is too severe. An anticonvulsant called gabapentin used for treating epilepsy is considered effective in reducing symptoms, so are Parkinson’s medications levodopa or pramipexole in some cases.
As we know all too well, most of these medications come with side effects. For instance, acetaminophen and NSAIDs are associated with liver damage and can cause intestinal bleeding and cardiovascular disorders, especially with long term use. Nausea, headache, edema, weight gain, breathing and swallowing difficulties and fatigue are some of the known side effects of gabapentin. Narcotics are addictive and precipitate withdrawal symptoms.
Since restless leg syndrome is a chronic condition, it is better to avoid drug treatments except in extremely severe cases. Instead, try some of these natural solutions many restless leg syndrome patients have found to be effective in managing their condition. In most cases, they may put it into remission, if not completely cure it.
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