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Restless Leg Syndrome: Definition, Causes, And Treatment

People who experience restless leg syndrome, also called Willis-Ekbom disease, have an irresistible urge to move their legs
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is more common among women than men

 

The human central nervous system (CNS ) represents a complex mechanism of nerve cells that are responsible for a multitude of jobs, including movement. As a consequence, any interference with the CNS can cause the birth of many unwanted symptoms. 

Within the cluster of nervous system disorders, we come across a strange and uncomfortable condition known as restless leg syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease. We aim to describe the symptoms of this disorder, discuss the potential causes, as well as to look at what treatments and home remedies we can use to mitigate the effects of RLS.

What is restless leg syndrome?

Restless leg syndrome is a physical condition caused by changes in the nervous system that create an irresistible urge to move one's legs. People who have RLS tend to experience an uncomfortable sensation in their legs which only disappears when they move the legs. 

These sensations, which can happen in the arms as well, tend to manifest themselves when the person is resting. RLS is classified as a sleep disorder since the symptoms are triggered by resting and attempting to sleep, and as a movement disorder since people are forced to move their legs to relieve symptoms. 

It is, however, best characterized as a neurological sensory disorder with symptoms that are produced from within the brain itself.

Due to this interference with the sleep pattern, people who experience restless leg syndrome have reported daytime sleepiness, mental fatigue, and a depressed mood.

There are various types of RLS and the first one, primary restless leg syndrome, has an early onset as it tends to appear before the age of 40. This version of the syndrome is marked by hereditary traits (members of the same family will have it) and also by its rapid development. 

Secondary RLS tends to appear in patients over the age of 40, it's onset is abrupt, and it does not develop with time. 

Among the main factors that could cause RLS, we can include iron deficiency, kidney failure, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson's disease, and even pregnancy. 

It has been observed that restless leg syndrome tends to affect women more than men, with almost double the incidence. Moreover, the condition has been linked to factors such as genetics and environment, lifestyle, and dietary habits. 

Symptoms of RLS

Although the most visible sign of restless leg syndrome is the uncontrollable urge to move the legs, changes in the nervous system can give way to other symptoms such as: 

  • Uncomfortable sensations in the legs and the need to move them due to these sensations. Symptoms occur when at rest, either in seated or laying down positions. 

  • Relief is achieved once the body part is moved

  • Nocturnal contractions take place, and many times restless leg syndrome has either been mistaken or associated with periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD), a condition in which a person experiences periodic, involuntary movements of their legs (and sometimes other limbs) during their sleep. 

Although each person experiences a different degree of discomfort in their symptoms, some more complicated to explain than others, most people have described these sensations as:

  • Itchiness

  • Pain

  • Electrical discharges

  • Palpitations 

It is typical of this type of disorder for the symptoms to fluctuate and even disappear for long periods, only to return with increased severity. 

Symptoms associated with RLS include itchiness, a "pins, and needles" sensation, or an irresistible urge to move the legs

 

Causes of RLS

The exact causes for restless leg syndrome have not been determined yet; however, several studies indicate that an imbalance in dopamine could be responsible for this condition. 

For many other functions, dopamine is in charge of sending messages that control muscle movement which is why it is believed that a variation in this neurotransmitter could be the cause for the strange syndrome.

Moreover, it has been observed that this condition tends to occur among the members of the same family which points to a hereditary factor. 

Finally, there is a series of risk factors that would prompt the appearance of restless leg syndrome and they include the following:

  • Iron deficiency

  • Periferic neuropathy 

  • Kidney failure

  • Spinal cord injuries

Prescription treatment

In cases where a condition or disease has been identified as the cause of RLS, prescription treatment can prove helpful in alleviating the symptoms. 

However, in the instances where the origin of the condition is unknown, the doctors may opt for a series of life changes as well as administering pharmacological treatment. 

The primary treatment recommended for symptoms of restless leg syndrome include:

  • Medicine that increases the amount of dopamine in the brain: ropinirole or rotigotine

  • Medication with effects on the calcium channels: gabapentin or pregabalin

  • Opioids or narcotics: codeine and Oxycontin 

  • Muscular relaxants and sedatives: clonazepam 

A home remedy against RLS is establishing a healthy sleep routine

 

Alternative remedies

Lighter cases of RLS, as well as more severe ones that require prescription treatment, can be alleviated with a series of homemade remedies. 

1. Establish a sleep routine

Although it may sound difficult to achieve, having a healthy sleep pattern can significantly influence the restless leg syndrome symptoms. 

Sticking to the same bedtimes, keeping a ventilated room, free of electronic devices and artificial lighting, could significantly improve the quality of life of someone struggling with this condition. 

2. Take iron supplements

Considering that a lack of iron in the body has been connected to restless leg syndrome, it is advisable to eat iron-rich foods, as well as to take iron supplements.

3. Other supplements

Although there aren't any conclusive studies regarding this, some specialists suggest that folic acid supplements, magnesium, and vitamin B12 could help reduce the intensity of the symptoms. 

Check out the original article: Síndrome de piernas inquietas: qué es, tratamiento y remedios at viviendolasalud.com

  

 

 

References:

Ramar, K. & Olson, E. J. (2013). Management of common sleep disorders. American Family Physician, 88(4): 231–238.

Allen, R., Picchietti, D., Hening, W. A., Trenkwalder, C., Walters, A. S. & Montplaisi, J. (2003) Restless legs syndrome: diagnostic criteria, special considerations, and epidemiology A report from the restless legs syndrome diagnosis and epidemiology workshop at the National Institutes of Health. Sleep Medicine, 4(2): 101–119.

Buchfuhrer, M. J. (2012). Strategies for the treatment of restless legs syndrome. Neurotherapeutics, 9(4): 776–790.

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