What is Restless Leg Syndrome?
Do you have this weird urge to move your legs? Then you may have a sleep disorder called Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS).
Restless Leg Syndrome is a sleep movement disorder with a strong urge or involuntary movement of legs that often happens at rest or during sleep. Moving the legs or standing up, reliefs the symptoms.
It's been around as early as the 1600s but it wasn’t until recently that people are becoming more aware about it and how debilitating it can be. The exact number of people it affected by it is unknown. More research needs to be done on this condition.
Restless Leg Syndrome symptoms
Most of the time, people can’t describe their symptoms but it feels like a creepy crawling, tingling, burning, ache sensation. It’s not a surface level feeling, rather it feels deeper. It’s not a leg cramp where your muscles tighten.
It mostly affects people's legs, in the calf area. In severe cases it can affect the arms. If it’s very severe it can affect people both during the day and night when they're relaxing.
More often, the symptoms occur in one leg, and can move to the other. Less often it occurs in both legs. The symptoms can move from one leg then to the other.
When RLS symptoms first start to appear, they may go away for weeks or months, but then they may reappear again. Over time, RLS symptoms can get worse.
Restless Leg Syndrome during the day
During rest, people have a strong urge to move their legs and an uncomfortable sensation with a crawling or burning feeling that’s often difficult to describe.
Restless Leg Syndrome at night
People with mild symptoms may not experience any symptoms at night.
People with more sever symptoms may may experience uncontrollable movements during sleep. They may be kicking so much they’ve kicked their partner or they have worn holes in their sheets. This leads to disrupted sleep with trouble falling and staying asleep.
They may wake up during the night, so they never get a deep sleep. In the morning, they might have sore limbs and feel very tired during the day. They may miss work, not feel productive, trouble focusing, and agitated. Poor sleep may lead to anxiety, depression, and decreased quality of life.
What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?
The cause of RLS is not clearly known even though it’s been researched for over 7 decades. We do know that one type or RLS is genetic, and the other is not.
If you have a family history of RLS, symptoms start at an earlier age, before 40. If you’re family has had it your 7 times more at risk for it.
If you don’t have a family history of RLS, symptoms start at an older age. It could be due to the brain’s dopamine imbalance or iron deficiency.
Low dopamine levels are linked to restless legs syndrome, causing you to feel tired, depressed, anxious, unmotivated, and moody. To diagnosis an iron deficiency, doctors will check your ferritin levels. Ferritin is a protein that stores iron inside your cells and if it’s too low they’ll recommend iron therapy.
Other medical conditions can trigger symptoms of RLS, such as kidney failure, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, pregnancy, iron deficiency, neuropathy, or damage to nerves in the legs. The symptoms might go away once the medical condition is treated.
For other people, we don’t know why it happens or what caused it.
Diagnosing Restless Leg Syndrome
With symptoms that are hard to describe, the first step to getting a diagnosis and talking to your doctor and visiting a sleep clinic to monitor your sleep, and how much you move your legs during the night.
Treating Restless Leg Syndrome
The good news is that for RLS, it’s simple to get relief, and treatable. Medication is the primary treatment for relief for severe cases, while lifestyle changes and natural treatments can help relieve mild cases.
There’s no medication specific for RLS. If people experience symptoms at night, they’ll often be prescribed the same medication used to treat Parkinson’s disease. If you suffer from RLS you’re not necessarily at higher risk for developing Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s is linked to low dopamine levels, just like RLS, so that’s why they use the same medication for treatment. Medication will often be given before bed.
Medications used are dopamine agonist such as Requip (Ropinirole) and Mirapex. This stimulates the dopamine receptors in the brain that produces dopamine, a chemical that helps regulate movement and mood. Side effects include lightheadedness, nausea, and fatigue, which will improve over time.
If people have symptoms during the day, they may use epilepsy medications such as gabapentin and America. It reduces abnormal electrical activity in the brain and is often used to treat nerve pain after an injury. The downside is that Gabapentin doesn’t reduce movements as well as Ropinirole, and has side-effects including drowsiness, dizziness, headache, and fatigue.
Symptoms of RLS can be improved just by doing iron therapy with a vitamin C supplement or IV infusion. IV infusions will work faster but you run the risk of an allergic reaction.
Natural ways to treat Restless Leg Syndrome
There are natural that may help RLS symptoms in mild to moderate cases:
Keep a regular sleep schedule
Not worrying before bed
Not forcing sleep
Hot bath or heating pads
Massage the legs
Staying mentally active
Avoid alcohol and caffeine
In severe cases, altering medication
How Yoga helps people with Restless Leg Syndrome
One study found that yoga may help improve restless leg syndrome. After 8 weeks of classes, all but one had reduced their symptoms of RLS, lowered their stress, and improved sleep, and mood.
How weighted blanket help people with Restless Leg Syndrome
People who suffer from RLS can find great relief by using a weighted blanket. A weighted blanket provides a deep and constant pressure, which has a relaxing effect that helps to reduce the symptoms of RLS, which helps you fall asleep, improving overall sleep quality, with longer stretches of sleep.
Try a weighted blanket night, to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. or during the day when symptoms appear.
A light amount of pressure from the blanket is enough to start calming your nervous system, however some people with a really over active system might prefer a heavier pressure.
Eat iron rich food
For iron deficiency eat iron rich foods:
Red meat, pork, and poultry, seafood
Dark green leafy vegetables
Dried fruits, such as raising and apricots
Breads, fortified breakfast cereals, potato skins
Restless Leg Syndrome and ADHD
People with RLS have an increased risk for ADHD, especially with symptoms that occur at night. About 25% of children that have ADHD may also have RLS. It results in poor sleep, they lose focus, or get agitated easily. However, RLS and ADHD are diseases not directly related.
Restless Leg Syndrome and Parkinsons
Symptoms of RLS are common in people with Parkinson’s, except when they have a family history of RLS. People with both RLS and Parkinson’s are older, and had symptoms of Parkinson’s before RLS. There is no evidence that people with RLS symptoms early in life, go on to develop Parkinson’s.
Restless Leg Syndrome and pregnancy
During pregnancy, about 1 in 5 women experience RLS. Symptoms disappear after the first month of delivery. The cause may be due to low levels of vitamin B and D. Vitamin B is found in most dark green vegetables, and beans and lentils. To get more vitamin D, get more sun, take a supplement, drink orange juice, or eat more egg yolks.
Restless Leg Syndrome and insomnia
One study found that insomnia and restless leg syndrome are common in people with obstructive sleep apnea and treated for upper airway stimulation. They found people had RLS if they stopped upper airway stimulation therapy and they felt more sleepy during the day.
Restless Leg Syndrome and Long Covid in women
A recent study found that it’s more common for women with long covid to also have moderate symptoms of RLS.
If you think you might have RLS talk to your doctor about treatment options and discuss what medications are best suited for your RLS.