Restless legs syndrome, or RLS, is a neurological disorder that causes a chronic urge to need to move the legs. The movement is usually in response to uncomfortable feelings or sensations that are temporarily relieved by leg movement. Sensations are often described by patients as feelings of itchiness, tingling or crawling sensations in the legs between the knees and ankles.
In most cases, these sensations occur while at rest – whether when sitting or at night while resting in bed. Individuals suffering from RLS commonly experience periods of insomnia due to the frequent need to move the legs. The condition can also cause difficulty for individuals who sit for long periods of time at work or who travel long distances on a regular basis.
There is no known cause of restless leg syndrome, although doctors and researchers have linked it to patients who suffer from certain conditions. For example, individuals suffering from peripheral neuropathy, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, iron deficiency and kidney disease are more likely to develop RLS than otherwise healthy individuals. RLS can affect individuals of all ages and health backgrounds, although it is adults over age 40, pregnant women, and individuals with a family history of RLS are most likely to develop the condition.
A neurologist can accurately diagnose restless leg syndrome after a patient consultation. There are not diagnostic tests or imaging scans that can assist in a diagnosis, although some physicians may prefer to rule out other neurological diseases using lab tests, neurological tests and brain imaging scans.
Treatment and Management
Restless legs syndrome has no cure, nor does it have a definitive cause. Fortunately, it is not life-threatening or dangerous in any way, but the condition can be quite uncomfortable and inconvenient. There are some ways neurologists can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life in patients with RLS:
- Minimize stress – Stress is a known aggravator of RLS and may make symptoms worse.
- Eliminate stimulants – Certain stimulants, such as caffeine, can enhance the symptoms of RLS.
- Massage and stretching – Any activity that relaxes the muscles and the body may help reduce the symptoms of RLS.
- Sleep aids – Doctors may prescribe sleep aids to treat chronic insomnia
- Dopamine agonists – These are medications that are designed to regulate movement in the body and may be effective for treating RLS symptoms at night.
- Iron supplementation – Though not for everyone, individuals with RLS who are found to be iron deficient may benefit from supplementation.