Learn How Restless Leg Syndrome Affects Your Health, What Causes It, And How It’s Treated
You just lost another night’s sleep due to keeping your legs moving to relieve discomfort. You may be wondering if restless leg syndrome can lead to other ailments. Learn the facts here from Pegasus senior care experts in Mount Washington and elsewhere.
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a medical condition officially known as Willis-Ekbom disease. Individuals with RLS experience sensations in their legs that range from uncomfortable to painful. In rare cases, RLS can affect your arms, chest, or face.
Symptoms Of Restless Leg Syndrome
Everyone is different, but you may feel sensations deep within your muscles that include:
The sensations are not on your skin, which makes them difficult to pin down. Most people do not describe the sensations as cramps. They also don’t report feeling numbness.
The sensations usually start when you’re resting. Sometimes they begin when you’ve been sitting for an extended time. Most often, they occur at bedtime.
The only way you can stop the feelings is to move your legs. Whether you stay in bed or get up and walk around, you can’t sleep. You are deprived of a restful night.
Restless Leg Syndrome Leads To Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation can have serious consequences. For starters, you’re always tired, which affects your ability to function productively. It also puts you at risk of having an accident.
Chronic fatigue can also make you depressed, anxious, or irritable. It can be harmful to your general well-being. There’s evidence that not getting enough sleep can potentially shorten your life.
Some experts classify RLS as a sleep disorder. Others describe it as a movement disorder. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke claims it as a neurological sensory disorder.
Causes Of Restless Leg Syndrome
Regardless of how it’s classified, the cause of RLS in most cases is unknown. The condition often exists with other diseases or conditions. RLS may cause or worsen those conditions, or they may cause or worsen RLS.
Research into the relationship of RLS to your overall health is ongoing. However, scientists have identified a genetic component in some individuals that develop symptoms before the age of 40. An iron deficiency is a cause for some people.
An abnormality in the brain chemical dopamine may be responsible for RLS in some individuals. Dopamine is also the culprit in Parkinson’s Disease. Some studies have shown a connection between Parkinson’s and RLS, but other research debunks a link between them.
As noted above, RLS often leads to sleep deprivation. In an ironic twist, sleep deprivation can worsen RLS.
Other possible causes include:
- Damage or injury to the spinal cord
- Kidney failure
- Medications, prescribed or over-the-counter
- Nerve damage (neuropathy)
- Sleep apnea
Some of these are under your control. You can eliminate a factor such as caffeine to see if doing so relieves the symptoms. Your iron levels can be tested and an iron deficiency remedied.
If you use prescription medications, talk to your physician about changing the drug, dosage, or timing. If you can, eliminate OTC remedies. Your health care provider or pharmacist may have suggestions for substitutes.
In addition to the above possible causes of RLS, there are a variety of other risk factors. Researchers are careful to specify that these factors co-exist with RLS in some individuals. Few are a direct cause, or a direct result, of RLS.
Some risk factors may be responsible for temporary RLS rather than a chronic condition. Pregnancy in younger women is one example. Other conditions under study for their link to RLS include:
- Anxiety or depression
- Attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD)
- High blood pressure
- Osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis
- Varicose veins
Women experience RLS more often than men do.
Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) is sudden contractions of leg muscles while asleep. These usually don’t awaken you, but do disturb your bed partner. Although individuals may have both RLS and PLMD, they are different conditions, and one doesn’t cause the other.
Myoclonus is another condition that may be mistaken for mild RLS. Some describe it as “sleep start.” It’s a sudden jerk just before falling asleep and is rarely a serious problem for most people.
Treatment For Restless Leg Syndrome
RLS treatment starts with changing lifestyle habits, such as quitting smoking, and treating underlying conditions. Some individuals obtain relief by relaxing their muscles with a warm bath or massage.
Cold or warm packs help some. Moderate exercise helps others. Some individuals use special foot wraps.
When nothing else works, your physician may prescribe medication. These can include dopamine, muscle relaxants, opioids, or sleep medications, among others. Effectiveness varies, and some have side effects.
Pegasus is a licensed Home Care Organization and a Joint Commission Accredited Home Health Care organization. Pegasus senior care services in Mount Washington and our other locations are customized to meet individual needs. We provide the level of care that you or your loved one require to live independently and safely at home.