Because of its name, Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) has obtained a rather nasty reputation among civilians and medical personnel alike. The idea that a person suffers from legs that simply want to move at night seems, at first glance, to be either a byproduct of another disorder or a natural human experience.
The recent media attention received by medications such as Sifrol has further antagonized the issue. Many people believe that restless leg syndrome is a disorder “made up” by the drug companies in order to sell more products. This isn’t the case, however, because studies have verified the potential for restless leg syndrome in many different conditions.
Also called Wittmaack-Eckborn’s syndrome, Restless Leg Syndrome is a disorder that affects the body’s extremities, particularly during the night. The patient may feel a strong urge to move limbs at regular intervals, and in some instances will experience pain or “tingling” sensations. Symptoms can begin in childhood and may affect the patient through adulthood.
Although restless leg syndrome can occur in any body part, the most common area is the legs – hence, the name. Because the sensations felt vary among patients, the precise feelings are not easy to identify. Some patients report itching or progressive tingling, while others report a strong desire to simply move, rather than a physical sensation.
The urges and sensations felt as a result of restless leg syndrome will be relieved – however temporarily – when the patient moves the body part. It can be as simple as a slight shift in position or it can be relieved through walking or stretching. In order to prevent the sensations as often as possible, many patients have turned to performing yoga or other exercises right before getting into bed.
If the patient attempts to sit or lie still, the symptoms will invariably worsen the longer the muscles remain inactive. Sitting or lying down quietly does nothing to relieve the symptoms, and will aggravate the sensations and desire to move.
Although 70% of sufferers claim that the symptoms only materialize during the night, some report the odd sensations at all hours of the day, and in all positions. Still, restless leg syndrome becomes worse at night, even if the symptoms are experienced throughout the day.
The most frustrating aspect of restless leg syndrome is that most people who have it don’t realize there is a problem. Most assume that they are the only ones who experience the strange sensations and urges, and are more likely to keep silent about them in front of family or even their physician. Some relief is experienced when a patient realizes that it is a common problem, but the symptoms do not go away.
Research is young for restless leg syndrome, and therefore little is known about it. Restless leg syndrome is considered an “idiopathic” disorder, which means that there is no identifiable cause for the affliction. This makes it difficult to treat, and even more difficult to understand. Patients often become frustrated because they are unable to find the right combination of lifestyle changes to eliminate or even ease the symptoms.
The most common way to relieve restless leg syndrome is by a simple “guess and check” method. Identify your activities that occur most often before the sensations begin, and try eliminating those factors one-by-one to see if their absence causes a decrease or pause in the symptoms. For example, some patients have linked caffeine before bed with restless leg syndrome. Staying away from coffee or sodas for at least two hours before bedtime might cause a dramatic change in restless leg syndrome.
Common causes include, but are not limited to sugar, caffeine, seizure medication, OTC drugs, recreational drugs, alcohol, vigorous exercise, magnesium, B-12 folate, calcium and fatty or greasy foods.
If the symptoms are dramatically disrupting your life, you should see a doctor about restless leg syndrome. Your physician may be able to help you identify the cause for your affliction and/or help to relieve it. Over the next three or four years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is planning to review and approve several new medications that may or may not have a positive impact on relieving restless leg syndrome.