Everything You Need to Know about Restless Leg Syndrome

Written By Center for Vein Restoration
Bare feet of a young woman on blue bed

Restless leg syndrome is a common neurological disorder that causes an irresistible urge to move the legs. If you’re suffering from it, we’ll help you find relief from your condition.

If you’ve ever experienced an uncomfortable buzzing or throbbing in your legs while sitting still or lying in bed, you may suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). Also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, RLS results in a distinct set of symptoms in the lower limbs, most notably a deeply unpleasant sensation that many patients describe as “pins and needles” or a “creepy crawly” feeling in their legs. If you’re struggling to manage your condition, we’ll outline its causes and symptoms for you and identify some possible treatments.

Who Gets Restless Leg Syndrome?

RLS affects between 5% and 15% of Americans. About half of all cases are hereditary. Anybody can suffer from RLS, but it’s twice as common in women as it is in men, and symptoms rarely arise before middle age.

Because RLS most often occurs when patients are trying to fall asleep, it’s sometimes regarded as a sleep disorder. Indeed, eighty percent of patients with RLS also have Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD), a sleep condition that causes patients to unconsciously jerk their legs while sleeping.

What Are the Symptoms of RLS?

Common symptoms of RLS include:

A constant tingling and pulling in the leg

A creepy, crawling feeling

An electrical sensation

Painful burning, itching, and aching in the legs

A twitching of the legs that worsens at night

Sleep deprivation

Exhaustion or fatigue

The severity of these symptoms can range from mildly uncomfortable to extremely painful, but simply moving the legs (or, in some cases, the arms) can provide temporary relief from them.

What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?

The cause of RLS is unconfirmed in most cases, but many experts believe that it’s connected to certain abnormalities in the basal ganglia, a set of structures in the brain that largely control the motor system. In addition, motor diseases like Parkinson’s, peripheral neuropathy, Lyme disease, rheumatoid arthritis, iron insufficiency, diabetes, and kidney failure can all exacerbate RLS. Some women have also temporarily experienced it during pregnancy. Other contributing factors include:

Pharmaceuticals like SSRIs, antidepressants, amphetamines, and some antihistamines

Alcohol and other depressants

Caffeine and other stimulants

Since all of these substances can affect the motor system, refraining from them can bring significant improvement.

Is RLS Associated with Venous Disease?

22% of patients with RLS also have a venous insufficiency. Indeed, venous insufficiency and restless leg syndrome share very similar symptoms, and doctors often find that patients with both will find relief from RLS after successful vein treatment.

What Are the Treatment Options for RLS?

While RLS is incurable, most cases respond quite well to some basic conservative treatments. Mild to moderate cases of RLS that aren’t related to other underlying issues can be relieved with lifestyle changes like:

Regular exercise

Leg messages

Hot bath

Good sleep habits

Applying a heating pad or ice pack

Reducing intake of alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine

If it’s accompanied by a venous insufficiency or a motor disorder, simply treating those conditions will likely alleviate RLS.

There are also many pharmaceutical treatments for RLS. The most commonly prescribed drugs are act on the neurotransmitter dopamine, which partially regulates motor movements. Anticonvulsants or anti-seizure medications can have similar effects. In more severe cases, the recently approved drug gabapentin enacarbil may also be useful.

RLS is a chronic condition, but there are many treatments available that can provide you with long-term relief. If you think you might be suffering from it, contact a vein specialist today for more information.

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