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Restless Legs Syndrome

What you should know about Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless Legs Syndrome, or RLS, is one of the most common but relatively unknown sleep disorders in the U.S. Restless Legs Syndrome is often noticed for the first time when you feel a prickly, tingling, or twitching sensation in one or both of your legs.

These sensations may not sound very serious to the average person, but for the millions of Americans who experience the discomfort of Restless Legs Syndrome, they're quite serious indeed.

According to the National Institutes of Health, about 12 million Americans have Restless Legs Syndrome. And although it's now beginning to be recognized more and more often, many researchers believe Restless Legs Syndrome is often misdiagnosed (or never even diagnosed at all), because a lot of people believe their symptoms won't be taken seriously or simply can't be treated.

To address the obvious need to educate the public about Restless Legs Syndrome, the RLS Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing information about RLS and assisting RLS patients in finding a doctor and/or support group, is funding new research and sponsoring educational initiatives about Restless Legs Syndrome. 

"My mother, my sister, and I had these awful sensations in our legs. We were unable to sleep or sit still on long automobile rides. It was hard for my father, our doctors, and even my wife to understand," said Bob Waterman, the chairman of the RLS Foundation's board of directors. "We were relieved when we finally discovered that we had a real illness. It had a name and it could be treated." 

The classic symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome include  uncomfortable sensations in the legs that get worse at night or when the legs haven't moved for a long period of time. The only way to relieve this uncomfortable feeling is by moving the legs.

This, of course, makes getting a good night's sleep or any other activities that restrict a person's movement, such as plane trips, long drives, or going to movies or sporting events, very difficult. 

"People suffering from Restless Leg Syndrome not only see their quality of life diminish, but they may not even be aware they have a real disorder that can be diagnosed and then treated," said John Winkelman, M.D., Ph.D., a renowned sleep specialist at Harvard Medical School and a member of the RLS Foundation's medical advisory board.

"Doctors also need to be aware of Restless Leg Syndrome so they can properly diagnose patients and prescribe the most appropriate medication when necessary." 

The primary symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome are:

  • You experience uncomfortable (creepy-crawly, tingly) sensations deep in your legs.
  • You have an irresistible urge to move your legs in order to relieve the awful sensations
  • You find temporary relief from the uncomfortable sensations after you move them.
  • The symptoms are more intense in the evening and at night, especially when you're at rest.
You should suspect Restless Leg Syndrome in yourself or others when you notice:
  • Frequent leg movements, characterized by a repetitive jerking of the leg
  • Fatigue and sleep disturbance. 
  • A family history of Restless Leg Syndrome
  • There is an absence of other conditions known to cause RLS-type symptoms, including pregnancy and iron deficiency.
"By educating yourself, you can easily develop a greater understanding of the condition and have a more productive discussion with your physician," said Waterman. "The recognition of the symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome by you and your doctor will lead to a quicker diagnosis and more effective treatment." 

While new research is currently being conducted, there are several effective treatments for RLS already available. In mild cases, simple lifestyle changes such as taking baths, getting massages, practicing yoga and other relaxation exercises, and eliminating caffeine and alcohol consumption may ease your symptoms.

In extreme cases of RLS, medications such as dopaminergic agents, sedatives, anti-convulsants, and pain relievers have relieved the symptoms. But all of the classes of drugs have varying benefits and side effects, so you need to discuss which medication is most appropriate for you with your doctor.

Article courtesy of the RLS Foundation.

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