Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless Leg Syndrome Causes Sleep Difficulties

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder that can interfere with a person getting a good night’s sleep. The symptoms of this disorder tend to be more noticeable at night or when the individual affected by it is resting.

Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome

People who have RLS describe a strong urge to move their lower limbs. In severe cases, the individual also wants to move his or her arms. The feeling of wanting to shift position is not a pleasant one. Instead, it has been described using the following terms:

  • Aching
  • Burning
  • Crawling
  • Creeping
  • Electric Shocks
  • Itching
  • Pulling
  • Tingling

Most patients with RLS describe the sensations as originating deep within their lower limbs, as opposed to on the surface of the skin. The area of the body where patients are most likely to experience them is in the calf region, although the sensations may occur in any part of leg or foot.

More Information About Restless Leg Syndrome

Individuals who have RLS may also have a condition known as Periodic Limb Movement in Sleep (PLMS). This condition causes the person’s legs (or arms in some cases) to jerk uncontrollably. With the movements occurring anywhere from every 10-60 seconds, sleep disturbances are quite common.

Causes of Restless Leg Syndrome

Researchers looking into the physiopathology of RLS have found it difficult to pinpoint a cause for the disorder. Genetics appears to play a role in the likelihood of a person developing RLS. Research into the cause of this disorder also suggests that a lack of iron in the brain may be the cause.

Iron is essential for the body to manufacture dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain. Dopamine affects a number of brain functions, including how the body moves. Since dopamine levels naturally fall at night, the lower levels of this brain chemical may be the reason some people develop the symptoms of RLS.

Treatment Options for Restless Leg Syndrome

A person experiencing the symptoms of RLS can try dealing with them using self-help strategies. Getting regular exercise and wearing compression stockings may help to relieve the symptoms. Alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco use can make symptoms worsen, and cutting back on their consumption may bring some relief.

If these measures aren’t enough to provide relief from RLS symptoms, a visit to the doctor is in order. After taking a detailed medical history, including asking questions about whether anyone else in the family has had a similar experience, a blood test to check iron levels will likely be ordered. If the results indicate low iron levels, the doctor may recommend taking an iron supplement.

Another option for treating this disorder is to use medication. Drugs used to treat Parkinson’s Disease may also be effective at keeping the symptoms of RLS at bay, since they increase dopamine levels in the brain. If this type of medication doesn’t provide the results the patient and his or her doctor are looking for, sedatives may be used to relax the muscles and help make nighttime more restful.

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