Restless legs syndrome (Willis Ekbom Disease)
I started dreading every day because I knew that by evening I would have this burning sensation in my legs that just wouldn’t quit. I couldn’t sleep”: Patient with Restless Legs
Do I have RLS?
Do strange and unpleasant sensations in your legs keep you up at night? Are you bothered by an irresistible urge to move your legs when you lie down or relax? Do you feel better when you get up and move around? If so, you may have restless legs syndrome (RLS), which is a nervous system disorder.
Not all people with RLS have the same symptoms. Common descriptions include:
Symptoms are occasionally seen in the arms, chest and other areas of the body. RLS can lead to sleep difficulty, daytime tiredness, and overall poor quality of life. People with RLS may have difficulty sitting for long periods of time, and with long travel on the bus and plane.
RLS is seen more in older adults and women, but is present in all age groups including children. Mild symptoms may start in early adulthood and become more severe with age.
Although 1 out of 10 people suffer from RLS, the diagnosis is often missed and people with this condition may not receive proper treatment. Part of the problem is that symptoms are hard to explain and sufferers are often dismissed as being “nervous.” Even doctors may not take it seriously, if they fail to recognize the symptoms.
Experts believe that low levels of iron in the brain may be responsible for RLS. An imbalance of dopamine is also believed to contribute. About 60% of people with restless legs have a family member with the condition, indicating a strong genetic component.
Vitamin deficiencies such as vitamin D and folate have been implicated.
Medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotic medications, anti-nausea medications can precipitate RLS symptoms. People with back pain, varicose veins, diabetes, kidney disease and peripheral neuropathy and neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease are more likely to have RLS. It is also commonly seen during pregnancy (approximately 40% of pregnant women experience it).
What treatments are available for RLS?
Whatever the cause of your restless legs syndrome, it’s important to know that help is available. If you have only mild symptoms, lifestyle modification may be enough. However, if your symptoms are bothersome and disruptive, you will most likely require a medication.
What lifestyle modifications will help reduce my RLS symptoms?
RLS symptoms get worse when you are under stress or anxious. Practice yoga and meditation. Develop relaxing habits to help you feel more calm.
Cut down on or stop drinking Alcohol
Nicotine is a stimulant that impairs blood flow to muscles and can make restless legs worse, so it’s best to avoid smoking.
For some people with RLS, caffeine is a trigger. However, in others, caffeine may improve symptoms. To understand your response, try cutting out coffee, tea, and soft drinks and monitor your symptoms.
Exercise and Stretch
Daily exercise including both aerobic and muscle stretching can significantly improve RLS symptoms. Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. Be patient since symptoms will first become worse, before you start to notice an improvement. If vigorous exercise makes your symptoms worse, avoid it and stick with lower intensity exercise.
Simple stretching exercises can be very helpful in reducing your symptoms.