Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is classified as a neurological, or sleep, disorder. RLS is essentially a nervous system ailment characterized by uncontrollable leg movement combined with any number of unbearable leg sensations including aching, burning, prickling, creepy-crawling, and itching. In many instances attempts to relax only seem to aggravate the symptoms. As a result, sleep is interrupted, defining RLS also as a “sleep disorder.” Restless leg syndrome causes no long term health issues, but it can result in problems walking, and eventual debilitation, as well as chronic stress and fatigue due to sleep deprivation.
About 10-percent (approximately 12 million) of the adult US population suffers from RLS. It affects both genders and all ages. Although RLS is an ailment experienced mostly by the middle-aged and elderly, pregnant women, infants, and toddlers may also suffer from it.
Correctly Diagnosing RLS
Many RLS sufferers do not recognize the symptoms. Others are misdiagnosed. Still others do not consult a physician because they fear they will not be taken seriously. On the other hand, physicians often misdiagnose RLS symptoms, attributing them and chronic fatigue associated with RLS to stress, insomnia, nerves, arthritis, cramps, or old age. RLS symptoms may be mild or severe, and generally worsen when left untreated.
Treating Restless Leg Syndrome Symptoms
Diet changes or dietary supplements can relieve RLS symptoms.
• Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine.
• Avoid heavy meals before bedtime.
• Add daily vitamin/mineral supplements to correct nutrient deficiencies.
• Ask your doctor if any of your medications (including herbal remedies) might be instigating RLS symptoms.
• Treat underlying medical conditions (i.e.: diabetes, anemia, thyroid or kidney disease, Parkinson’s, etc.) that might be causing RLS symptoms.
• Stretch and exercise; begin and end your day with leg stretching exercises.
• Do not over-exercise (especially before bedtime).
• Take walk breaks to boost your circulation throughout the day and before bedtime.
• Practice relaxation techniques; take hot, cold, or whirlpool baths.
• Apply leg massage, vibratory stimulation, or hot/cold packs to the legs, feet, and/or toes before bedtime.
• Request an aisle seat when flying; stretch your legs often to boost your circulation.
• A (warm bed) heating pad can reduce RLS symptoms.
• Maintain a regular sleep schedule; avoid daytime naps.
Prescribed medications do not cure the condition, but they can help relieve RLS symptoms.
• Dopamine agonists (i.e.: Mirapex, Neupro) are usually the first medicines prescribed to treat RLS (leg sensation) symptoms. They act like dopamine (in the brain). Nausea, daytime sleepiness, and dizziness may occur.
• Benzodiazepine sleep sedatives (i.e.: Xanax, Klonopin) are typically prescribed to help the sufferer sleep through their RLS symptoms.
• Opiates (i.e.: Vicodin, Norco) are prescribed for pain relief associated with RLS symptoms. They are generally prescribed only when other drugs don't work.