Restless leg syndrome can make you feel sleep-deprived and irritable. But is it a serious medical condition?
It’s normal for the stress of the day to occasionally keep you up at night. But if you’re experiencing restless leg syndrome (RLS), getting enough rest is more difficult due to the involuntary cramps, tingling, and burning sensations in the legs that worsen at night. When you’re constantly moving your legs to relieve the symptoms, you can’t get the restful sleep your body needs!
Besides the frustrating lack of sleep, you’ll perhaps want to know if RLS is a serious medical condition. Even if RLS isn’t severe, can it signify an underlying condition? Persistent sleep deprivation can lead to depression, anxiety, poor concentration during daylight hours, and constant fatigue. Although RLS may not be life-threatening, treatment for it can greatly improve your quality of life by helping you get the rest your body needs.
What causes Restless Leg Syndrome?
RLS falls into two categories. Primary RLS has no known underlying medical condition or cause, yet it likely has a genetic connection. If RLS strikes at a younger age, it’s probably due to heredity.
Secondary RLS can be traced to chronic medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and diabetes. Although research is ongoing, these conditions are believed to interfere with the neurotransmitter in the brain called dopamine that regulates muscle movements. Similarly, severe anemia or iron deficiency has also been linked to RLS. Other studies have found a connection between varicose veins and RLS.
RLS exhibits similarities to periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD). In fact, a majority of people with RLS also suffer from PLMD. Like RLS, PLMD is characterized by the frequent twitching and jerking of the legs and arms during the night. The movements cause a person to wake up numerous times, leading to daytime fatigue. People with PLMD may not necessarily have RLS.
Certain medications, such as antidepressants or antihistamines, can trigger RLS symptoms. If you think medications are causing your RLS symptoms, you can speak to your doctor about adjusting the doses. Excessive alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine use may also result in RLS.
Treating Restless Leg Syndrome
Unfortunately, RLS doesn’t go away on its own, although you may experience periods of remission. A diagnosis of RLS can determine the cause and suggest a treatment plan. For instance, if the underlying cause is Parkinson’s disease, managing that condition will help control the symptoms of RLS. Taking iron supplements is another option if anemia is the cause.
To regulate dopamine levels in the brain and minimize leg movements, your doctor may prescribe dopamine agonists and dopaminergic agents. Like many medications, these drugs may cause side effects. Speak to your doctor about the possible side effects before taking them.
In addition to medications, at-home remedies can reduce symptoms and induce sleep. To start, you can try these five:
Mild exercise before bedtime. Intense workouts before you sleep could make symptoms worse. But gentle calf stretches or massages are excellent ways to ease into sleep.
Take a warm bath. Soaking in a warm tub can relax the leg muscles and lessen the symptoms when you go to bed.
Change your sleep habits. With RLS, it’s easy to lose control of your sleep patterns. Every night, make sure to go to bed at the same time and concentrate on falling asleep instead of checking your computer or phone.
Limit RLS triggers. Smoking, drinking alcohol, or sipping caffeinated drinks can make falling asleep more difficult when you have RLS. Limit those substances if you want to get a restful slumber. It’s also a good idea to stop eating two to three hours before bed to give your body time to digest your food.
Take magnesium supplements. Magnesium helps in regulating sleep. One study found magnesium reduced the symptoms of RLS and PLMD in those suffering from those ailments. As with any supplement, consult with your doctor first before taking magnesium.
Visit the vein specialists in New Mexico
RLS has been associated with varicose veins, so it’s worth getting your veins checked by a specialist to rule out (or treat) vein disease as a trigger for RLS. Visit one of four Center for Vein Restoration (CVR) locations in New Mexico. Each clinic is led by an experienced physician who will thoroughly examine your veins and tailor a treatment plan that may also help you sleep peacefully.
Michael Harding, MD, is board-certified in vascular medicine, cardiology, and internal medicine. Chandran Vedamanikam, MD, is a board-certified phlebologist in venous and lymphatic medicine and family practice.
Schedule a consultation online or call 1-800-FIX-LEGS for more information or to schedule an appointment.
801 Encino Place NE #C-12,
Albuquerque, NM 87102
500 E Walnut Street
Deming, NM 88030
2801 E. Missouri Avenue
Las Cruces, NM 88011
2220 Grande Boulevard SE
Rio Rancho, NM 87124