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Goldman Vein Institute

Restless Leg Syndrome Questions and Answers

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome, otherwise known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a common movement and sleep disorder that is estimated to affect up to 10% of adults and up to 4% of children in the United States. If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from the syndrome, you will undoubtedly have a few questions about it. The team from Goldman Vein Institute is here to provide you with answers.

What is Restless Leg Syndrome?

Restless Leg Syndrome, or RLS in its shortened form, is best characterized by an intense urge to move your legs. This urge is often uncontrollable and is brought on by an uncomfortable, ‘heavy’ or crawling sensation that can be temporarily suspended by giving in and moving your legs around. Most people who suffer from this disorder will experience it at its worst at night, especially when they are settling down to go to sleep. As a result, those diagnosed with Restless Leg Syndrome will often battle with insomnia, which can have a negative and lasting effect on their ability to function optimally in their waking hours.

What causes Restless Leg Syndrome?

Scientists remain uncertain of the underlying cause or causes of Restless Leg Syndrome. However, they have discovered that it can often be hereditary. In recent times, researchers have found specific sites on chromosomes where they believe that the genes for Restless Leg Syndrome exist. This assumption has yet to be proven, but it is well-known that most of the individuals who are diagnosed with the condition when they are younger than 40 years old have relatives who suffer from it, too.

Another theory regarding the cause of RLS is that of a dopamine chemical imbalance in the brain. This chemical is responsible for sending messages to the brain to bring about muscle movement.

Other scientists believe that the syndrome can be triggered by extended sedentary periods, from working for a long time at your desk to enduring a long-haul flight or bus ride.

Finally, some studies show that women who do not usually suffer from RLS may experience it during pregnancy, particularly during the third trimester. Further to this, women who have been diagnosed with the condition may notice that it worsens temporarily throughout pregnancy.

What are the symptoms of RLS?

RLS’s primary symptom is a crawling sensation in the legs that usually presents itself when the person has been lying or sitting down for a while, or when in bed at night. You can be pretty sure that you have RLS if you experience a temporary sense of relief by moving your legs or getting up and walking.

Those with the condition might also notice leg twitching at night since RLS is often associated with another disorder called ‘periodic limb movement of sleep’.

What foods can cause Restless Leg Syndrome?

RLS is not thought to be caused by food, although some food items can exacerbate symptoms. Some experts insist that adding certain foods to your diet can aid in reducing symptoms, too. Research has shown that higher amounts of folate, magnesium, and iron can benefit RLS sufferers tremendously. If this is true, you should look into including more dark leafy greens (such as spinach and kale), beans, lentils, and fortified cereals in your eating plan.

On the other side of the coin, people with RLS are encouraged to steer clear of food and drinks that contain excessive amounts of caffeine (chocolate, coffee, fried foods, and sugary treats). Caffeine is a stimulant that can set off your nerves, thus aggravating your existing RLS symptoms and making the urges even more challenging to control.

What is the best treatment for Restless Leg Syndrome?

You will need to decide which approach to treating RLS you would prefer to take – the natural route or the medication route. It is also possible to try a combination of both.

Here at Goldman Vein Institute, we can assist you in creating an effective treatment plan that focuses on relieving your symptoms and providing you with maximum relief. We examine:

  •   Lifestyle changes: Changes include cutting out caffeine, helping you stop smoking, and reducing the amount of alcohol consumed. We can also assist in advising you in terms of creating an exercise plan and getting better quality sleep.
  •   Heat and massage: Many RLS sufferers claim that they get a lot of relief from leg massages and spending time in a hot bath or shower.
  •   Medication for RLS. If your RLS symptoms are severe, it is understandable why you might want to try more powerful treatment in the form of medication. The good news is that the FDA approves many of the drugs used to treat this condition. You are likely to find relief with neurotransmitters (dopaminergics), which work to increase the dopamine levels in the brain. FDA-approved neurotransmitters include Ropinirole (Requip), pramipexole (Mirapex), and rotigotine (Neupro). It is worthwhile trying benzodiazepines for sleeping, narcotics to relieve pain, and anticonvulsants if necessary.

Who suffers from Restless Leg Syndrome?

It is estimated that RLS affects twice the number of women than it does men. An RLS diagnosis is also more likely if you are over the age of 40. However, it is a disorder that is known to strike at any age – even during childhood. As mentioned above, RLS is common in pregnancy due to hormonal changes.

In some cases, RLS is simply a symptom of another underlying condition. For example, people who have damage to the nerves in their feet will experience RLS. This condition is known as peripheral neuropathy.

RLS can also often be a sign that you have anemia (iron deficiency), so be sure to get this checked out just to be safe.

Finally, there is some evidence to suggest that getting a spinal block (anesthesia to the spinal cord) can increase your chances of developing Restless Leg Syndrome in the future. This risk exists because a spinal block can leave lesions on the spinal cord, and spinal cord conditions are linked to RLS.

How to relieve Restless Leg Syndrome

There are a few natural home remedies that can bring relief. As mentioned above, leg massages and hot baths/showers often work wonders. However, some people prefer cold compresses instead of heat.

It is recommended that you get regular, moderate exercise, preferably in the morning or early afternoon. Some individuals report worsened symptoms if they exercise later in the day or push themselves too hard.

You can also investigate the various foot wrap options out there. You will find a couple of manufacturers who design foot wraps specifically for people diagnosed with RLS.

What vitamins or mineral supplements help Restless Leg Syndrome?

As stated above, you should consider taking iron, folate, and magnesium supplements to help treat RLS.

Are there medications that can worsen RLS symptoms?

Yes, there are certain medications that might worsen RLS symptoms. These medications include some anti-nausea drugs, as well as medications for the relief of allergies. There have also been reports of specific anti-depressants and antipsychotic medications having a negative effect on those with the disorder.

How to cure Restless Leg Syndrome?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Restless Leg Syndrome. However, if you put the treatment suggestions and recommended lifestyle changes into practice, you are sure to notice an improvement in both your symptoms and your overall quality of life.

What happens if Restless Leg Syndrome goes untreated?

Most commonly, if left untreated, Restless Leg Syndrome can make life significantly less pleasant. Seeing as though the disorder can have a dramatic impact on your quality of sleep, most people will experience fatigue, which can lead to a decrease in productivity at work. As symptoms persist, the individual might also develop signs of depression and anxiety. These symptoms might encourage them to seek help from a doctor, following which, anti-depressants are likely to be prescribed. As explained earlier in the article, anti-depressants can worsen RLS symptoms. The result is a vicious cycle of restless legs, depression, and anxiety – hence the reason why it is vital that RLS is diagnosed as early on as possible.

How should you sleep with RLS?

RLS sufferers need to pay special attention to improving their sleeping conditions. Ensure optimal airflow in the room and tweak the temperature to a comfortable setting – not too hot and not too cold. Consider meditation right before bedtime and focus on staying relaxed after that. Try gently massaging your legs if symptoms appear. Finally, you might also want to look into purchasing a foot wrap explicitly designed for combatting the discomfort associated with the condition.

When should I see a doctor about RLS?

It is crucial to make an appointment with your doctor, such as the vein experts at Goldman Vein, as soon as you suspect that you might have Restless Leg Syndrome. The urgency to get a diagnosis is because the condition can lead to depression, anxiety, and severe fatigue if left untreated. Keep a journal in which you document the symptoms you experience daily, and when. This information will come in handy in terms of assisting the doctor in successfully diagnosing your condition and advising you regarding the treatment options available to you.

Is RLS hereditary?

It is thought to be, yes. However, genetic links are not present in all cases. As stated previously, there is more likely to be a family history of the disorder in individuals diagnosed before they turn 40.

Are there exercises that can help alleviate symptoms?

Yes, there are. Aside from massage, there are a few helpful exercises that you can do at home to aid in alleviating your symptoms. Many people recommend engaging in yoga, Pilates, swimming, and cycling. It can also help to do daily stretches, such as the following:

  •   Front thigh stretches: Stabilize yourself by placing your hand against a wall or on a handrail. Lift the heel of one foot to your buttocks and hold in place for 30 seconds before doing the same on the other side.
  •   Hip stretches: Grab a sturdy chair with a seat height equal to your knees. Push it against a wall for support. Raise your foot and place it flat on the chair, keeping your knee bent. Maintain a strong posture and move your pelvis forward until your thigh feels a decent stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
  •   Calf stretches: Use the same chair as the one in the exercise above. Hold the backrest and use it as support while you lunge, stretching your calf muscles.

If you have any further questions regarding how Goldman Vein Institute can assist you in treating your Restless Leg Syndrome, do not hesitate to get in touch to set up an appointment with one of our experts.

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