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What is Restless Legs Syndrome? Is It Treatable?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a nervous system disorder that causes a person to feel uncomfortable or strange sensations in their limbs, especially the legs, which then leads to the need to constantly move their limbs in order to provide temporary relief.



These sensations are usually only present when the person begins to relax, especially when trying to fall asleep. In addition, most people with RLS also commonly experience their limbs jerking and moving around uncontrollably during sleep. Due to these two effects, this condition is also considered a sleeping disorder in addition to a neurological problem.

When a person suffers from restless legs disorder, they always report having strange, painful, or uncomfortable sensations in their legs that usually begin once the person starts to relax in the late afternoon or evening. 

These sensations can range from itching and burning to mild discomfort or the pins and needles feeling you get when your legs fall asleep. The only way to alleviate these symptoms is to continuously move the legs or affected limbs around, which temporarily makes theses sensations go away or at least lessens them.

restless legs syndromeThese strange sensations can be incredibly frustrating, as they make it incredibly hard to focus on anything else, and often make it quite difficult to fall asleep. Additionally, many people experience uncontrollable jerking of their limbs once they finally do fall asleep. 

These different factors can lead to a severely degraded quality of sleep, which can in turn cause many other serious health problems. Therefore, if you are experiencing the symptoms of restless legs syndrome, you should immediately contact your doctor to undergo testing and determine what steps you can take to allow yourself to fall asleep easily and sleep peacefully throughout the night.

Causes of Restless Legs Syndrome

One of the biggest problems with RLS is that doctors do not yet know what actually causes this disorder. Most research has shown that it is likely related to genetics in some way, as more than fifty percent of sufferers have a family history of the disorder.

Still, there are also many other conditions and factors that are thought to contribute to this disorder, or at least cause it to worsen. Some of these other factors include:

  • Taking Certain Medication
There are many different medications that are thought to worsen symptoms of RLS, including antidepressants, antipsychotics, anti-nausea drugs, and cold/flu medications which contain antihistamines.
  • Pregnancy
restless legs syndromeMany women experience worsening RLS symptoms or start to experience these symptoms for the first time while they are pregnant, especially in the later stages of pregnancy. It is not known why pregnancy causes these symptoms, but they typically go away within a month or two after giving birth.
  • Chronic Illnesses and Other Diseases
There are also a number of other diseases and illnesses that are known to worsen RLS symptoms, including Parkinson's disease, diabetes, iron deficiencies, and kidney failure. In most cases, treating these conditions usually results in lessening the symptoms of RLS.
  • Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation is known to worsen the symptoms of RLS, which is quite worrying, as RLS can also lead to sleep deprivation.
  • Excessive Alcohol Consumption
People who drink alcohol excessively are also more likely to develop symptoms of RLS, while quitting or cutting back on drinking usually makes the symptoms disappear.
 
Diagnosing and Treating Restless Legs Syndrome

While doctors are still not sure what actually causes restless legs disorder, they are at least more knowledgeable when it comes to diagnosing and treating this condition. Still, the problem remains that there is no actual test to determine if a person is indeed suffering from RLS.

Diagnosis of RLS is also based on a patient's self-reported symptoms and what medications they are currently taking, as well as their medical history and that of their family.  When a person complains to their doctor about their symptoms, blood tests are usually performed to rule out all other possible causes, after which treatment for RLS can begin once the other possible causes are ruled out.

After a doctor determines that a person is most likely suffering from RLS, a treatment plan is developed that is mainly focused on targeting the particular symptoms to provide relief from them. Depending on the severity of the condition, there are many different treatment options available than can help provide relief from the symptoms of RLS.

 

In mild to moderate cases, making changes to your lifestyle are often all that is needed to provide relief. Some of these lifestyle changes may include developing more regular sleeping patterns; eliminating the use of caffeine, tobacco, or alcohol, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime; and beginning a regular exercise regimen

 

restless legs syndromeWhen these changes aren't enough to combat a person's symptoms, a doctor may then decide to try other treatment methods, such as regular massages of the legs, soaking in a warm bath before going to bed, or applying icepacks or a heating pad to the legs for a period of time directly before bed.

Nonetheless, sometimes the symptoms of RLS are so severe that none of these treatment methods have much of an effect on lessening them. In these cases, most doctors will then move on to prescribing drugs or other medication to help treat the symptoms. Ask your doctor for advice. Some of the medications used include:

  • Benzodiazepines
A class of heavy sedatives that can help a person fall asleep easier, despite their RLS symptoms. The only problem is that these medications can also cause excessive daytime drowsiness, and sometimes worsen problems with sleep deprivation.
  • Dopamine Agonists
There are quite a few drugs which work on dopamine receptors in the brain that have received an FDA approval for the treatment of RLS.
  • Anti-Convulsion Medications
The same drugs used to treat seizures and uncontrollable convulsions have also been shown to sometimes be effective at treating the convulsions and limb jerks associated with RLS.
  • Narcotic Pain Relievers
Sometimes strong narcotics are used to treat severe pain associated with RLS.

Overall, there is no set cure for RLS, but it is almost always possible to treat and relieve a person's symptoms. Still, it may be necessary to try several different methods, or a combination, before finding permanent relief from restless legs syndrome. 


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