Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome is so-called for the feeling of ‘restless legs’ sufferer’s experience. With about 5-15% of the population affected by restless legs syndrome*, it is certainly not uncommon, however, many sufferers may not realise they are suffering from a genuine medical disorder.

Having been recognised throughout history, the earliest written account of restless legs syndrome was published in 1683**. This account tells of “leaping up” of tendons in the arms and legs, “cramps” and “unquietness”, resulting in sufferers being unable to sleep because of the severity of their symptoms.

Often experienced in the evening and into the early hours of the morning, restless legs syndrome creates the urge in sufferers to move their arms or legs. This can be accompanied by leg cramps or aching legs, along with uncomfortable or unpleasant sensations. These have been described as being similar to pins and needles, or a ‘creepy-crawly’ feeling.

Those who suffer from restless legs syndrome typically find their symptoms begin or worsen during periods of rest or inactivity, usually when lying or sitting down. Movement, such as walking or stretching totally relieves symptoms, but only as long as the activity continues.

What causes the restless legs syndrome?

Both men and women can suffer from restless legs syndrome, but it is more common in women. Symptoms can begin at any age, and can even affect young children. The disorder does seem to be hereditary, with over 50% of patients claiming to have a family history of restless legs syndrome***.

As symptoms range in severity – from mild to severe – and can also present intermittently, restless legs syndrome is often unrecognised or misdiagnosed. Aside from genes playing a part in what is thought to be the cause of restless legs syndrome, there are other possible factors that may affect the development or worsening of the condition.

  • Restless Leg SyndromeMedications: Some medications may affect sufferers of restless legs syndrome, such as anti-nausea drugs, antipsychotic drugs, some antidepressants, and cold and allergy medications containing sedating antihistamines.
  • Chronic Diseases: Some diseases and medical conditions may play a part in affecting the symptoms of restless legs syndrome, such as iron deficiency, Parkinson’s disease, kidney failure, diabetes, and peripheral neuropathy.
  • Insomnia: Research suggests over 90% of restless legs syndrome sufferers also have insomnia, in that they have trouble initiating or maintaining sleep****.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnant women in their third trimester may experience restless legs syndrome. Symptoms typically go away within a month after birth.

There are other lifestyle factors that may also affect restless legs syndrome symptoms. These include alcohol consumption and sleep deprivation.

How can you treat restless legs syndrome?

Those who suffer severe symptoms will often seek out restless legs syndrome remedies. But, while there is no official restless leg treatment, there are ways in which to ease symptoms. Mild sufferers may choose to make lifestyle changes, such as eliminating or decreasing the use of caffeine, alcohol and tobacco.

A regular exercise program may also help, alongside the establishment of regular sleep patterns. For those who have conditions associated with restless legs syndrome, the treatment of those conditions may help to alleviate restless legs syndrome symptoms. Mild restless legs syndrome sufferers may also try:

  • A hot bath,
  • Heating pads or ice packs applied to the legs,
  • Leg massages,
  • Specialised vibrating pads applied to the legs.

When symptoms are more severe, prescribed medication may be required. As some of these drugs have side effects or potential addiction issues, they should only be taken under supervision.

  • Dopaminergic drugs: These act on the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain.
  • Benzodiazepines: This is a class of sedative medications, and can be used to help with sleep, but may cause daytime drowsiness.
  • Narcotic pain relievers: These can be used to treat severe pain.
  • Anticonvulsants or anti-seizure drugs: These can be used to reduce the need to move aching legs and arms.

If you suffer from restless legs syndrome, if you have cramps in legs or arms, or if you have aching legs at night, you may choose to try restless legs syndrome remedies for mild symptoms or seek medical advice if symptoms are more severe.

 

Sources:

* https://www.nps.org.au/australian-prescriber/articles/restless-legs-syndrome#r2

** Willis T. The practice of physick. Two discourses concerning the soul of brutes. Samuel Pordage (trans. 1683). London: T Dring, C Harper and J Leigh; 1684.

*** https://www.nps.org.au/australian-prescriber/articles/restless-legs-syndrome#r2

**** https://www.nps.org.au/australian-prescriber/articles/restless-legs-syndrome#r2