What is restless leg syndrome?
To start, restless leg syndrome is considered a sleep disorder. People with RLS experience an intense urge to move their legs when they’ve been sitting or lying down for a long time. It can also happen when you’re sitting in a movie theater, on a road trip or on an airplane. The discomfort can make it impossible to sleep or get anything done.
Patients with RLS describe it as the need to move their legs, along with burning, crawling and itching sensations. Needless to say, it’s an uncomfortable condition to deal with.
Who is most at risk for restless leg syndrome?
Anyone can experience RLS at any age. It can begin as early as childhood, but typically develops in adulthood and gets worse with age. Restless leg syndrome is also more common in women than men.
Causes of restless leg syndrome
According to Cleveland Clinic, RLS can be genetic, and 92% of patients have a relative with this disorder. Those with a genetic predisposition will usually develop symptoms earlier than people without a close relative with it. There are also many medical conditions that are connected to RLS, such as:
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Kidney disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Signs of restless leg syndrome
The main symptom of restless leg syndrome is, of course, restless legs. People with RLS feel a strong urge to move their legs and feel relief once they do. Along with that, there are other factors that define RLS, such as:
- It happens while you’re resting. One of the main signifiers of RLS is that the urge to move your legs comes on while you’re resting. You won’t start to feel like you want to move your legs until you’ve been sitting or lying down for a long period of time.
- You feel relief when you move your legs. Typically, those with RLS feel relief immediately upon moving their legs. Walking, stretching or jiggling your legs can bring relief and is one of the signs that you may have restless leg syndrome.
- It only happens at night. Another telltale sign of restless leg syndrome is that your symptoms appear at night. RLS is commonly linked to periodic limb movement disorder, which also happens in the evening.
Diagnosis of restless leg syndrome
There isn’t one specific test for restless leg syndrome. A diagnosis will be made by your doctor based on symptoms and your medical history. They may also run blood tests and a neurological exam to rule out other health conditions before diagnosing you with RLS. A sleep study may also be done since RLS is considered a sleep disorder.
When your doctor is looking for RLS, there are certain criteria that must be met, including:
- A strong urge to move your legs
- Symptoms occur at night
- Symptoms cannot be explained by another medical condition
- Symptoms are relieved by movement
After you discuss symptoms with your provider, they will also ask you about the severity of your symptoms. Without a test to confirm a diagnosis, doctors need to be as thorough as possible when assessing the symptoms. They may ask how often you have symptoms, how uncomfortable they are and if they’re affecting your daily life.
Treatment for restless leg syndrome
Treatment for RLS will depend on the underlying cause and how severe your symptoms are. Typically, doctors will attempt to avoid medication in the beginning and try a treatment plan that may include:
- Getting regular exercise, such as biking or walking
- Getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night
- Avoiding electronics before bed
- Limiting caffeine, alcohol and nicotine
- Using a heating pad or cold compress on your legs before bed
- Soaking in a hot tub
While restless leg syndrome may not be life-threatening, it can be bothersome. Doctors may have a hard time diagnosing it since there is no single test for diagnosing RLS. If you’re experiencing symptoms of RLS, contact your healthcare provider to rule out conditions such as peripheral neuropathy.
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