Do your legs ache, squirm, feel antsy and seem to want to MOVE to get comfortable when you try to go to sleep at night? How about during the day- do you need to get up and walk around to relieve that same irritating sensation in your legs when you are supposed to be sitting in a meeting or parking yourself in front of a computer? Does walking around or at least moving your legs relieve the discomfort? If so, you may be one of the estimated 3-15% of the population with a disorder known as restless leg syndrome (RLS).
This disorder can be a sign of underlying issues such as iron deficiency, pregnancy, kidney problems or drug side effects, but also may be an isolated medical problem. About half of the time, there is a family history of other blood-relatives having the restless leg syndrome. The incidence increases with age, and is more common in Caucasians.
How is RLS diagnosed?
Restless leg syndrome is primarily diagnosed by your history, with focus on four issues:
- Strong urge to move your legs
- Symptoms worse at rest
- Symptoms worse at night
- Urge relieved by movement, but come back quickly with rest
Your doctor may need to do blood tests to determine if you have a low iron level (ferritin) and/or low red blood cell count (anemia), and occasionally a formal sleep study may be necessary to fully identify RLS.
How is RLS treated?
If there is an identified cause, such as a medication or iron deficiency, then the treatment obviously targets that trigger. Medications that are more likely to cause RLS include antihistamines and decongestants, antidepressants, anti-nausea medications, seizure medications and stimulants.
If no cause can be identified, then there are several different medications which your doctor may try.
For very intermittent symptoms, a drug traditionally used for Parkinson’s disease (Sinemet) can be taken on an “as needed” basis. For people who suffer from symptoms the majority or every night, other neurologic medications (Requip, Mirapex, Neurontin, Lyrica, or Neupro) may be tried on a nightly basis.
What about alternative therapies? There’s always SOAP…
BOTTOM LINE: If your squirming legs are keeping you from restful sleep, don’t suffer in silence- talk to your doctor and find out if you have restless leg syndrome!