Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a condition characterised by the irresistible need to move in order to get rid of uncomfortable, odd or painful sensations in your legs. Symptoms of RLS can vary, but they often include feelings of aching, itching, burning or tingling.
RLS is a fairly common condition. Experts estimate that up to 15% of adults will experience restless leg syndrome (RLS) at some time in their lives. Although restless legs can afflict both women and men, the condition is more common in women. 19% of women will develop RLS symptoms when they are pregnant. Young people and even children can suffer from RLS, however the disease most often affects those who are middle-aged or older.
There is no known cure for RLS, however there are many treatment options available. The best treatment option for you will depend on the underlying cause of the RLS. RLS can be diagnosed where there is no known underlying cause. Alternatively, RLS can also be diagnosed as a symptom related to a specific medical condition. The most common medical conditions related to RLS include:
Our brains use the chemical dopamine to produce smooth, purposeful muscle activity. Insufficient dopamine levels can cause problems with muscle movement such as spasms, burning and the uncontrollable need to move the legs that is associated with RLS.
Studies suggest that low iron uptake by certain brain cells could contribute to RLS. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as simple as taking iron supplements. The problem is related to the efficient delivery of iron from the blood to the brain cells rather than the actual amount of iron in the blood.
Varicose veins or venous reflux
Varicose veins are dark blue or purple, lumpy and swollen veins, most often found in the legs. Varicose veins develop when tiny valves in the veins don’t work properly. When these valves are damaged, blood builds up or even flows backwards. This causes blood to clot and pool, leading to the condition we know as varicose veins.
A recent study has linked RLS strongly to varicose veins or venous reflux. This is good news for RLS sufferers, as it suggests that getting varicose veins treated will not only cure pain in the legs, but also give relief from RLS. The study found that 98% of patients with RSL experienced relief from their symptoms after having their varicose veins treated, and 80% had long-term relief.
Research shows that untreated thyroid disease can produce RLS symptoms. Some forms of this condition cause a lack of magnesium and vitamin B in the blood. Low levels of these vitamins and minerals can cause the muscle tightening, leg spasms and creepy, crawly sensations in the legs of RLS.
Diagnosing and treating RLS
Whether your RLS is related to another medical condition or not, it can seriously affect your quality of life. Unfortunately, there is no specific test or criteria to confirm a diagnosis of restless legs syndrome. Your doctor has to rely on your description of your symptoms and medical history in order to make a diagnosis.
Unfortunately, RLS can’t be cured but there are many treatments that can help cope with the condition and relieve symptoms:
- Help your muscles relax with gentle stretches, massage, and warm baths.
- Try yoga, meditation, or positive visualisation to ease muscle tension and aid relaxation.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.
- Treat your varicose veins to obtain symptom relief.
- Ensure you take regular exercise.
- Do a range of leg stretches at least twice a day.
- Try using hot or cold packs.
- Avoid eating a heavy meal close to your sleep time.
- Keep to a regular sleep schedule.