The Move of Restless Legs Syndrome

Symptoms and diagnosis for Restless Legs Syndrome

By Neurosurgery Singapore

Restless Legs Syndrome info

What is Restless Legs Syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a nervous system disorder that causes an overpowering urge to move your legs. It’s also known as Willis-Ekbom disease.

Doctors consider it a sleep disorder because it usually happens or gets worse while you’re at rest. You might have trouble sleeping or sitting for a long time, such as in a theater or a car. It may get worse if you don’t get treatment. Over time, a lack of sleep can cause problems at work or home.

Anyone can get it, but it’s more common in women, and middle-aged people are more likely to have severe symptoms.

Sometimes, doctors don’t recognize RLS, especially if symptoms are mild or don’t happen often. But once it’s diagnosed, treatment can often stop it.

What are some underlying symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome?

The chief symptom is an urge to move the legs. Common accompanying characteristics of Restless Legs Syndrome include:

  • Sensations that begin while resting. The sensation typically begins after you’ve been lying down or sitting for an extended time, such as in a car, airplane or movie theater.
  • Relief with movement. The sensation of RLS lessens with movement, such as stretching, jiggling the legs, pacing or walking.
  • Worsening of symptoms in the evening. Symptoms occur mainly at night.
  • Nighttime leg twitching. RLS may be associated with another, more common condition called periodic limb movement of sleep, which causes the legs to twitch and kick, possibly throughout the night, while you sleep.

People typically describe RLS symptoms as compelling, unpleasant sensations in the legs or feet. They usually happen on both sides of the body. Less commonly, the sensations affect the arms.

The sensations, which generally occur within the limb rather than on the skin, are described as:

  • Crawling
  • Creeping
  • Pulling
  • Throbbing
  • Aching
  • Itching
  • Electric

Sometimes the sensations are difficult to explain. People with Restless Legs Syndrome usually don’t describe the condition as a muscle cramp or numbness. They do, however, consistently describe the desire to move the legs.

It’s common for symptoms to fluctuate in severity. Sometimes, symptoms disappear for periods of time, then come back.

“Most of the time, the cause of Restless Legs Syndrome isn’t obvious. But more than 40 percent of people with RLS have some family history of the condition. When it runs in the family, symptoms usually start before age 40.”

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What types of diagnosis?

There isn’t one single test that can confirm or rule out RLS. A large part of the diagnosis will be based on your description of symptoms.

To reach a diagnosis of RLS, all the following must be present:

  • overwhelming urge to move, usually accompanied by strange sensations
  • symptoms get worse at night and are mild or absent in the early part of the day
  • sensory symptoms are triggered when you try to relax or sleep
  • sensory symptoms ease up when you move

Even if all the criteria are met, you’ll probably still need a physical examination. Our Neurologist will want to check for other neurological reasons for your symptoms.

Be sure to provide information about any over-the-counter and prescription medications and supplements you take. And tell our doctor if you have any known chronic health conditions.

Blood tests will check for iron and other deficiencies or abnormalities. If there’s any sign that something besides RLS is involved, you may be referred to a sleep specialist or other specialist.

It may be harder to diagnose RSL in children who aren’t able to describe their symptoms.

Possible treatment methods?

Treatment of restless legs syndrome depends on the intensity of the symptoms. Treatment should be considered if quality of life is affected by insomnia and excessive daytime drowsiness. In cases of RLS due to ongoing medical disorders, specific treatment is also necessary.

Non-drug treatments. Non-drug treatments are tried first, especially if symptoms are mild. Non-drug treatments include:

  • Getting regular exercise, such as riding a bike/stationary bike or walking, but avoiding heavy/intense exercise within a few hours of bedtime.
  • Following good sleep habits, including avoiding reading, watching television or being on a computer or phone while lying in bed; getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep and following other healthy sleep habits. Not getting enough sleep can worsen RLS symptoms.
  • Avoiding or limiting caffeinated products (coffees, teas, colas, chocolates, and some medications [check labels]), nicotine, and alcohol.
  • Applying a heating pad, cold compress, or rubbing your legs to provide temporary relief to the leg discomfort. Also consider massage, acupressure, walking, light stretching or other relaxation techniques.
  • Soak in a warm tub.
  • Try magnesium supplements. They may be helpful.
  • Reduce stress as much as possible. 

Iron supplementation. Iron deficiency is a reversible cause of RLS. If blood tests reveal you have low iron levels, our doctor may recommend taking an iron supplement.

Prescription medications. When RLS symptoms are frequent or severe, our Specialist will likely prescribe medications to treat the disorder.

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