What causes Restless Leg Syndrome?
Restless Leg Syndrome is a neurological disorder that affects about 10% of the population. The main symptom is a relentless urge to move your legs and because it usually occurs when you are at rest in the evening or when you are in bed, restless legs syndrome is considered a sleep disorder – because it can cause difficulty falling asleep.
If you haven’t ever experienced restless legs syndrome, its difficult to explain the symptoms. Some suffers have described the sensation they feel in their legs (usually their calves) as ‘itching’, ‘cramping’, ‘pins and needles’ or a ‘creepy crawly’ feeling. Whatever the ‘feeling’ that is felt by the suffers of restless legs syndrome, they have an irresistible urge to move their legs, which actually relieves the symptoms temporarily.
In fact, when the symptoms occur, constantly moving your legs can give a significant amount of relief, which is why sufferers toss and turn in bed frequently and have difficulty relaxing enough to fall asleep.
These feelings might occur in both legs at the same time, or one leg or the other – there is no rhyme or reason and no consistency. You might also go for months without any problems at all and then all of a sudden, it starts again. Women more than men tend to suffer from restless legs syndrome and it is more prevalent in middle age, but it can occur at any age.
Caffeine, tobacco and alcohol have all been suggested as causes, but really no-one really knows what causes restless legs syndrome, although it is believed to be hereditary. Other causes of restless leg syndrome include chronic diseases (Parkinson’s, diabetes or peripheral neuropathy) or medications ( antidepressants, anti-psychotics or anti-nausea drugs).
Diagnosing Restless Legs Syndrome
Diagnosis of this condition is difficult and usually involves a recognition of the symptoms. Once a diagnosis has been made, the sufferer may undergo other tests to exclude some of the medical causes, which might also require treatment.
Blood tests or measuring the electrical activity in the muscles might be of some benefit to exclude other causes of the symptoms – restless legs syndrome tends to be a diagnosis of exclusion!
Treatments for Restless Leg Syndrome
Whilst movement can offer temporary relief, something more permanent is required. It is often found that if there is an underlying medical cause for restless legs syndrome that treating this condition can provide relief to suffers of restless leg syndrome as well.
Vitamins for restless legs syndrome include iron, folate and magnesium, which often provide some relief during an episode. Moderate exercise has been shown to be effective, whilst excessive exercise has been known to aggravate the condition. Hot baths, massage and heat packs have all been tried and they might provide some relief, but don’t cure the condition. Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and tobacco is another strategy that might help some people.
Medications that suppress the amount of dopamine in your system have shown some success for sufferers of severe symptoms, although there is no single drug that is effective. Your doctor will need to try different dopamine suppressors until you find one that works for you. Anti-seizure drugs have also shown success in sufferers with severe symptoms.
Restless legs Syndrome is a condition that is unlikely to go away and is something that you will have to manage for life. Many sufferers try a variety of treatments, finding one that tends to offer some relief, although usually not all the time. The focus is generally on minimizing the symptoms and trying to find strategies to help sufferers to relax and fall asleep at night.
For help managing Restless Leg Syndrome, you can check the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation’s Website.