Restless Legs Syndrome Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment


legs-1Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological/sleep disorder that affects as many as 10 percent of the population in the US. Symptoms of RLS include throbbing, pulling, creeping, or other extremely unpleasant sensations in the legs. These symptoms are often accompanied by an almost overwhelming urge to move your legs. RLS symptoms occur primarily at night when a person is relaxing or at rest. These symptoms can get even more severe throughout the night.

“Trying to describe my symptoms is the challenge of the century. They usually begin while seated, with a jerky and uncontrollable movement of either leg accompanied by creepy-crawly sensations, resulting in an irresistible desire to stand up and walk, which almost instantly results in relief. The pressure to do so can interrupt any other activity, such as eating dinner, reading, sometimes sleep or even an evening at the theater or a concert. The effects on my psyche, over the years, have been devastating. The only good news is that experience has taught me that those feelings will last only a few minutes even though the pleasures of the evening have been disrupted.”  – A retired TV producer speaking about his experiences with Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), in an article by the Consumers Union of United States, Inc. published in the 12/9/2013 edition of Washington

legsThis man’s complaints might seem strange to some, but to the millions of people who suffer from RLS, his complaints are all too real. Yet, the long-suffering ex-producer is luckier than most – his condition was properly diagnosed. According to a survey conducted in 2005 by the Archives of Internal Medicine, almost 70% of those respondents who actually have RLS were misdiagnosed as having maladies ranging from arthritis, poor circulation and varicose veins to depression and neurosis. Researchers now believe that as many as one in ten adults may suffer from RLS, which means a great many of those who have RLS are slipping under the radar.

The Stigma of RLS

Unfortunately, RLS has been stigmatized because so many medical providers mistakenly believe its symptoms are psychosomatic, the result of anxiety, stress or an active imagination. In fact, many people who suffer from Rested Legs Syndrome refuse to seek medical attention because they are afraid their doctors will think they are either imagining the symptoms or suffer from a psychological disorder.  Consequently, little research has been conducted to determine specific causes and remedies for the condition, although many scientists suspect an imbalance in the brain chemistry might be one of the primary causes.

RLS Patients Must Live with Severe Pain and Discomfort

The clinical definition of Restless Legs Syndrome doesn’t begin to describe the range of painful symptoms that RLS patients must endure, including the emotional devastation so eloquently described by the TV producer.  Common symptoms include a feeling that a steel brush is smacking against the bottom of your feet, as well as unpleasant sensations such as itching, throbbing, aching and burning in the feet and calves.

Medical Diagnosis and Symptoms

According to physicians, a person who is diagnosed with RLS diagnosis must have an uncontrollable urge to move one or both legs and have the following additional symptoms:

*Uncomfortable sensations.

*The symptoms almost always occur at night during rest. Lying down and trying to relax often exacerbates the symptoms.

*The RLS symptoms are usually relieved by walking or stretching

Left untreated, the condition causes exhaustion and daytime fatigue. The sleep deprivation associated with RLS can have a severe toll on quality of life issues such as job performance and interpersonal relationships. People who have RLS often have difficulty concentrating, suffer memory impairment and are unable to complete daily tasks due to overwhelming fatigue.

legs-handsFacts about Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

1.  RLS is the second or third most common sleep disorder.

2.  Growing pains in children may actually be a sign of RLS in some cases.

3.  RLS symptoms often increase as we age.

4. RLS may lead to problems with attention, memory and concentration because of the sleep loss it causes.

5.  RLS tends to run in families and it may be linked to a defective gene.

6.  Reactions to particular drugs, especially antidepressants have been linked to RLS symptoms, although its precise cause remains unknown.

7.  Many conditions mimic RLS symptoms including muscle disease, night crams and anxiety disorders to name just a few.

8.  Lab tests cannot identify RLS; diagnosis must be made through interviewing patients and assessing symptoms.

9.  Restless Legs Syndrome does not cause involuntary leg movements; the many uncomfortable and painful symptoms cause RLS patients to have an overwhelming need to move around.

10. RLS is more common during pregnancy but doctors and scientists have been unable to explain why.

11.  Women are more likely to suffer from RLS than men.

12. Regular exercise can help alleviate some of the symptoms of RLS. However, rigorous exercise can sometimes exacerbate symptoms.

13.  RLS is unrelated to Parkinson’s disease although some of the same medications are prescribed by some doctors to treat both conditions.

14. RLS is recognized as both a sleep disorder and a neurological condition.

15.  RLS is also known as Ekbom Syndrome because it was first described by Swedish nerve specialist Karl-Axel Ekbom in 1945.

16.  Studies suggest that RLS may be linked an imbalance in the brain of the chemical dopamine.