Restless legs syndrome, while not a life-threatening disorder, can be at the least irritating and at the most debilitating to those who experience it.
A person with restless legs syndrome feels uncomfortable when their legs are not in motion. When sitting or lying down, they feel that they have to get up and move around in order to get relief from this discomfort. It is suspected that the condition results when there is an imbalance of dopamine in the brain, dopamine being a chemical that sends muscle movement signals. However, the cause has not yet been proven and is still being researched.
The primary and obvious symptom of restless legs syndrome is, of course, discomfort in the legs and an almost constant urge to move them.
Insomnia can become another symptom when the individual finds themselves continually needing to get up and walk around during the night.
In order to properly diagnose restless legs syndrome, the physician will need to rule out other underlying disorders that could be causing leg symptoms. It is therefore important to give a complete family and personal medical history and report any other disease or disorder. Peripheral neuropathy or iron deficiency are two other possible causes of the syndrome that would require treatment to relieve symptoms.
Sometimes a sleep study using a nocturnal polysomnogram is helpful in diagnosis of restless legs syndrome. The sensors monitor muscle movement as well as brain activity and respiratory and circulatory function.
Other blood tests, x-rays, nerve and muscle studies may be done in order to rule out any other suspected conditions.
If another underlying medical condition is found, then the patient will be treated for that condition, which may relieve the restless legs syndrome.
There are various types of medication available for sufferers of restless legs syndrome, depending on the severity of the disorder and taking the patient’s lifestyle into consideration. Some of the medications that may be prescribed are sedatives, anti-seizure drugs, or opioids. opioids. Sometimes drugs which are normally prescribed to Parkinson’s patients may be used. These are given to replace the dopamine in the brain when an imbalance or insufficient amount is suspected.
Much of the treatment for restless legs syndrome involves altering habits. People with this syndrome are asked to exercise more every day, massage and stretch, soak in hot tubs or jacuzzis. They should cut back on any stimulants such as coffee, tobacco and alcohol. Many times it’s helpful to participate in relaxation techniques such as yoga. Often the patient is asked to maintain the same sleep schedule every night. When sitting or lying down, keeping the brain active with puzzles or studying something interesting can prevent occurrences.
Usually, with a dedicated course of treatment, the restless legs syndrome patient can find their own techniques to live a busy, normal life fairly free of debilitating episodes.
Signet/Mosby Medical Encyclopedia
National Institute of Health