Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) Fact Sheet: Causes And Treatment

What is RLS?

RLS is a nervous system disorder that causes an irresistible urge to move the legs. Although it commonly affects the legs, it could also affect the head, arms and torso.

what is restless leg syndrome

Who can get RLS?

RLS can affect both males and females, but it’s more common with females. The condition could arise at any age but a greater number of people who are affected are in their middle age or older. The condition may become more frequent and last longer with age in some individuals, while it regresses in others.

Causes of RLS

Most cases of RLS are from unknown causes. Others can arise as a result of any of the following:

a.       Diseases: Iron deficiency anaemia, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, kidney failure, peripheral neuropathy, thyroid disease, Sjögren's syndrome, celiac disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.

b.      Medications: Antinausea drugs, antihistamines (drugs for cold and allergies), antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants and withdrawal of the use of some sedative drugs may aggravate symptoms.

c.       Pregnancy: RLS could occur mostly during the third trimester. Generally, symptoms disappear few weeks after child birth.

d.      Genetics: Possible familial pattern inherited in an autosomal dominant trait.

e.      Others: Sleep deprivation, alcohol, Caffeine and tobacco may worsen the condition.

Factors that may trigger an episode of RLS are mainly periods of inactivity such as:

  • Long road trips.

  • Long distance flights.

  • Sitting in a movie theatre.

  • Relaxation exercises like meditation.

  • Immobilization of body parts in a cast.

Signs and symptoms of RLS

  • An urge to move the legs or in some cases, the arms, usually due to uncomfortable sensations that occur in those body parts.

  • Sensation may be felt as creeping, crawling, tingling, or burning, especially when sitting or lying down.

  • Falling asleep and staying asleep may be hard.

  • Tendency to pace the floor, constantly move the legs while sitting, and toss and turn in bed because moving the legs or other affected body parts relieves the discomfort.

  • Periods of symptoms getting worse at night and symptoms disappearing early in the morning.

Diagnosis of RLS

  • There is no specific test to diagnose RLS, but with a proper history and good knowledge of the clinical features, a diagnosis can be made.

  • Laboratory tests may be performed to rule out other conditions.

Treatment of RLS

  • RLS symptoms can be relieved by treating any associated medical conditions such as diabetes or neuropathy.

  • Medications such as Dopaminergic agents, Benzodiazepines, Anticonvulsants and Opioids can be used. Medications may lose their effect over time when taken regularly. Hence, it’s important to change medications periodically.

Other methods of treating RLS include:

  • Supplements to correct iron, folate, and magnesium deficiencies.

  • Decreased use of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.

  • Moderate exercise and leg massage.

  • Use of heating pad or ice pack.

  • Maintaining regular sleep patterns.

  • Use of a Relaxis pad, which is places on the area where the discomfort is felt. The pad vibrates for 30 minutes.

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