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Restless legs syndrome (RLS) – causes, symptoms, treatment and self-care

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a sleep-related movement disorder that involves an almost irresistible urge to move the legs at night.

Characteristics and Symptoms of RLS

– Sensations in the legs are described as creeping, crawling, tingling, pulling, or painful.
– It is also termed as a neurologic sensorimotor disorder.
– It occurs when you’re at rest, especially right before you fall asleep or when you’ve been sitting still for long periods, such as at the movies or during a long car ride.
– It occurs in the calf area but may be felt anywhere from the thigh to the ankle.
– Onset occurs at all ages, from early childhood to late adult life.
– Symptoms may also include involuntary jerking of the limbs that intensifies in the evening or at night and is relieved by movement.
– Leg sensations are relieved by walking, stretching, knee bends, massage, or hot or cold baths.

Causes of RLS

– RLS runs in families and may have a genetic component.
– The symptoms are provoked by long periods of inactivity.
– It may progress to the arms and other parts of the body.
– Iron deficiency and all conditions that produce it increase the risk of RLS.
– Some medications may precipitate or aggravate RLS.
– It is associated with nerve damage in the legs due to diabetes, kidney problems or alcoholism.
– Excessive Caffeine intake.

Effects of RLS

– RLS symptoms can cause severe sleep disturbances.
– The leg movements in RLS disturbs the sleep of the bed partner.
– It causes reduction in daytime energy.
– Depression and anxiety increases with people having RLS.

Types of RLS

Early-onset RLS starts before the age of 45 years, producing symptoms that progress gradually. The daily occurrence of symptoms usually is not present until the age of 40 to 65 years.
– In late-onset RLS, symptoms appear daily from the time that they begin, or they may progress rapidly over a period of about five years until they occur with regularity.
Primary RLS occurs independently of other disorders but may be exacerbated or triggered by other factors.
Secondary RLS is precipitated by other disorders and resolves when the other disorders are treated.

Treatment for RLS

RLS has several different types of treatment, some of which are not a cure but instead meant to alleviate the symptoms.
Homeopathy can be used to treat RLS.
Several medicines that are used to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s can be used for alleviating some of the discomfort of RLS. These medicines aid by reducing the twitching of the legs, and contribute towards reducing tremors.
There are several diet and lifestyle related changes that can be also employed, which help in the reduction of RLS. These include reducing the consumption of caffeine, increasing the amount of protein and decreasing the amount of sugar, taking iron supplements (if the level of iron in the body is below recommended levels), reducing consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Some of the lifestyle changes include trying to get a good non-disturbed sleep, avoiding having distractions such as the TV in the bedroom, developing a consistent pattern for sleeping hours, start some moderate amount of exercise, lose weight (if over-weight).

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