Although restless leg syndrome (RLS) is not a debilitating illness, it can result in extreme discomfort and impact your everyday life and activity level. A lot of people may not know they have RLS, as it usually impacts everyone differently. RLS symptoms can increase or diminish in intensity as you age.
Restless Leg Syndrome Symptoms
If you experience RLS, your legs may feel all sorts of uncomfortable. Your leg muscles may burn, itch, or throb. The common thread among RLS sufferers is a strong desire to stand up and move the legs. Beyond this, RLS often leads to:
- Worse symptoms when inactive or at night, especially when lying down in bed
- Improvement when walking or moving your legs
- Sustained leg twitching at night
Restless Leg Syndrome Risk Factors
No matter your age or physical activity level, you may be at risk for RLS. Even children occasionally report difficulty falling asleep due to muscle discomfort in their legs, and roughly 40% of RLS patients first noticed symptoms as adolescents. As people advance in age, RLS grows more common, perhaps correlating to decreased physical activity levels. Compared to men, women are more likely to experience RLS symptoms. If you have a family history of RLS, you are more likely to experience symptoms.
Restless Leg Syndrome Causes
It is often difficult to nail down a cause for RLS. Medical evidence supports a chemical imbalance in the brain, resulting in disrupted cognitive messages regarding muscle control. Some preexisting medical conditions may put you at a higher risk of developing RLS. These conditions include:
- Diabetes, kidney failure, and peripheral neuropathy
- Taking anti-nausea drugs, anti-depressants, and some cold and allergy medicines
- Pregnancy, especially the later stages
Restless Leg Syndrome Tests and Diagnosis
Diagnosing RLS can be tricky, as no one test exists. When you visit your doctor, you will discuss your medical history and describe your symptoms in detail. This can help your doctor diagnose you. For an official diagnosis, you must check these four criteria boxes:
- You experience a strong urge to move your legs due to discomfort
- Being immobile, whether sitting or reclining, worsens your symptoms
- Moving around temporarily relieves your symptoms
- Your symptoms worsen at night
To further determine if you have RLS, your doctor may administer blood tests or nerve studies. You may even be referred to a sleep specialist, although this is a rare occurrence.
Restless Leg Syndrome Treatments
Treatment for RLS usually focuses on lessening the symptoms related to the disorder. Lifestyle changes often successfully reduce mild to moderate symptoms. These include:
- Decreased consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco
- Taking supplements to correct an iron or vitamin deficiency
- Moderately exercising
- Keeping to a regular sleeping pattern
Your doctor may prescribe medications to lessen your leg restlessness. Keep in mind these medicines only tend to alleviate RLS symptoms, as most were developed to treat other diseases like Parkinson’s.
If you believe you have restless leg syndrome, schedule an appointment to discuss your symptoms and possible treatments for RLS with your doctor.