For a disorder which affects nearly 12 million people in U.S. alone, restless legs syndrome is quite unknown, or is it? The name may be unknown, but this disorder is not. Restless legs syndrome or Wittmaack-Ekbom's syndrome, as it is otherwise known as, causes an irresistible urge to move one's body to stop uncomfortable or odd sensations. The sensations are normally related to the limbs, but in severe cases can appear elsewhere too. It is known as a ‘spectrum' disease with some people experiencing only a minor annoyance, while others experience major issues. Restless legs syndrome or RLS can make it really hard to fall asleep and if at all, you fall asleep, you would eventually struggle remaining asleep. The syndrome leaves you tired during the night, making it hard for you to concentrate on your work during the day or even going through your daily chores. Restless legs syndrome usually begins slowly and keeps getting worse with passage of time. Therefore, it’s necessary to recognize, understand and treat this neurological disorder at the earliest. In the following lines, we have given detailed information on the causes, symptoms and treatment of restless legs syndrome.
RLS has been linked to various causes over the years. The main cause is deficiency of iron and resultant anemia or genetic heritage. However, the causes may vary from person to person. The most common conditions associated with this ailment are pregnancy, obesity, smoking, genetic heritage, nerve disease, polyneuropathy, hormonal diseases, Parkinson disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, kidney failure, nerve damage. Intake of drugs, caffeine, alcohol, some anti-depressants can also lead to restless legs syndrome.
There are definite symptoms that need to be confirmed in order to be diagnosed with RLS. The most basic symptom is the urge to move the legs. This is mostly accompanied by an irritable sensation in the legs. These sensations, unlike normal sensations, cannot be described easily. People suffering from these urges can often relate to the explanations given by others. The sensations are described as antsy, creepy or electrical. The urge gets more rampant and becomes unbearable when you are not moving or are resting. These sensations are directly related to several factors like the severity of the person’s RLS, the degree of restfulness, the duration of the inactivity, etc. Moving around or walking may reduce the intensity of sensations or give relief. Most people find the symptoms to be less visible during the day and more evident in the evening or at night, especially during the onset of sleep.
Treatment of restless leg syndrome is directed toward any underlying illness, if known. Permanent and guaranteed treatments for RLS are still in the pipeline. However, there are several methods that have been found beneficial in treating the ailment. For mild cases, lifestyle changes can help get rid of the symptoms easily. For instance, avoiding smoking and drinking can help a lot in getting over with RLS. Adopting good sleeping habits is a good way to deal with RLS too. Doing moderate physical activities is also advisable. Doing things that distract you and keeps your mind off the terrible sensations is another method.
There are certain activities which relieve us from the sensations for a short time and provide temporary relief. These activities include walking and stretching limbs, taking a bath, massaging the affected limb, using heat or ice packs on the affected limb. Try listening to music or even better try to solve crosswords or something that tests your mind. However, there are times when activities do not help and medication remains the only way out. In such scenarios, generally physicians choose from dopaminergics, benzodiazepines (central nervous system depressants), opioids, and anticonvulsants.
Dopaminergics, also used for treating Parkinson’s disease, have found considerable success in controlling and curing symptoms related to RLS. In 2005, the U.S. FDA approved the use of Ropinirole to treat moderate to severe RLS. Benzodiazepines (such as clonazepam and diazepam) may be prescribed for patients who have mild or intermittent symptoms, while opioids such as codeine, propoxyphene, or oxycodone may be given for their ability to induce relaxation and lessen pain. Unfortunately, none of these drugs are permanently effective and sometimes lose their effect after prolonged use. Moreover, there are no certain ways of discovering which drug is best suited for a certain person.