What Are Restless Legs?

What Are Restless Legs?

Restless Legs, also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease (WED), is a disorder known to cause intense itching and urge to move the legs. The condition is considered a sleep disorder by doctors as it tends to get worse during the night and periods of long rest and inactivity. People with restless legs have trouble sitting still and getting to sleep at night. The problem can get worse without any intervention. The overall quality of life continues to be affected as the condition gets worse and worse.

Restless Legs can hit anyone at any time. It has been seen in young and old people alike. Around 7-10% of Americans suffer from RLS. While the condition can hit anyone, it is more commonly seen in women and middle-aged people. Symptoms are as follow;

  • A strange itching or “crawling” sensation in the legs. The itching sensations may also present in the arms as well as legs.

  • A need to move limbs to alleviate the sensations and get relief

  • Restlessness, including pacing, tossing and turning, and involuntary leg rubbing

Some people will only see the symptoms when they are sitting down or lying in bed. Persistent symptoms may become worse during periods of inactivity and then get better when the person starts moving. For the most severe cases, not even moving will alleviate the symptoms. The other symptoms of restless legs are:

  • Trouble sleeping leading to daytime sleepiness

  • Involuntary jerking limb movements that happen while one is asleep or resting. The movements are known as a periodic limb movement disorder and they affect up to 90% of people with RLS

Not everyone who has RLS experiences the same symptoms to the same degree. For some people, the symptoms don’t occur every night. For others, they don’t go away at all. Some people are lucky and can go several weeks, if not months before the symptoms reappear

People generally describe their RLS symptoms as being unpleasant abnormal sensations in the legs and feet. These symptoms can occur on both sides of the body. It’s rare but symptoms may also affect the arms. The sensations caused by RLS, which affect the limb more than the skin, have been described as:

  • Creeping

  • Crawling 

  • Aching

  • Throbbing

  • Electric

  • Itching

Some sufferers have trouble putting the sensations into words to describe them. People don’t generally describe their condition as being numbness or muscle cramp. The main thing that sufferers agree on is the urge to move their legs to get relief. 

Ruling Out Other Causes

Restless legs syndrome shares common symptoms with other conditions. It could be a sign of a deeper underlying condition. When you talk to your doctor about your RLS they will be able to give you an accurate diagnosis and rule out other potential causes. Laboratory tests help to rule out other issues such as iron deficiency anemia, and kidney failure. Doctors can perform blood tests to spot other medical disorders associated with restless legs, such as a simple iron deficiency. Iron supplements help to manage the condition and could eliminate the problem if the only factor is iron deficiency.

A doctor could ask you to undergo a sleep study. These sleep studies help to identify other potential causes of sleeping problems. A polysomnography test, for example, measures breathing, brain activity, heart rate, and physical movements during sleep. These tests are used to diagnose people with sleep apnea. An asleep study could also support an RLS diagnosis instead of ruling it out. The point is that the symptoms of RLS are not tied to it exclusively. There could be other factors at work and your doctor will want to check for them. It’s much better to have the right answer and the right diagnosis so you can move forward with the right treatment.

What to do if you Think You’ve Got Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs are a chronic condition. It can be manageable, it might not go away completely. If you suspect that you could have RLS then the first thing to do is consult your family physician. Talk to a doctor about the condition and get the tests you need. Your doctor may want to send you to a neurologist.

You should also make some simple lifestyle changes to better manage the condition at home. Change your diet and take supplements for iron, folate, and magnesium to counter nutrition deficiencies. Try to get out more and exercise regularly. Adopt a healthy sleeping pattern where you get to bed and wake up at around the same time. Hot and cold treatments and leg massages are also effective as they improve circulation.

Talk to Your Doctor

Some people may be uncomfortable bringing up restless legs syndrome with their doctor. They might be afraid that their doctor won’t take them seriously. Restless legs syndrome is one of those conditions that can – and does – mess with daily function. It impairs your ability to function normally and ruins the overall quality of life. It’s for that reason that you should consult your doctor.