RLS is a condition in which uncomfortable sensations occur in the legs when resting or at night in bed. The symptoms can occur occasionally or daily, and movement or stimulation such as rubbing the legs or taking a hot or cold bath may help to temporarily relieve the discomfort. RLS prevents a person from getting a good nights sleep which can result in: fatigue, lack of concentration, sleepiness and even depression. These can have a major impact on a person's quality of life. The good news is that RLS can be treated.
How common is Restless Legs Syndrome? Recent studies showed that 16 % of South Africans may be suffering with moderate or severe restless legs syndrome. The condition appears to be more common in women (62 % of the respondents who reported symptoms were women). The condition also appears to be more common in people older than 50.
How Patients describe Restless Legs Syndrome
People suffering from restless legs syndrome may use the following words and phrases to describe the way that their legs feel when experiencing symptoms.
The gotta moves
Soda bubbling in the veins
What causes Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)? The exact cause of RLS is unknown, however certain factors have been identified as playing a role. These are discussed below.
The body produces a chemical called dopamine, the levels of dopamine in the body appear to be related to the occurrence of RLS.
Low Iron levels appear to be a possible cause of RLS.
Certain medications appear to trigger RLS, these include: antinausea and gastrointestinal medications, some sedatives and antihistamines, and certain types of antidepressant medications known as SSRI's.
How do you know if you have Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)?
Tick the last column if the statement applies to you
Do you experience an urge to move your legs and is this usually accompanied by uncomfortable and unpleasant sensations in the legs?
Do you experience the urge to move or unpleasant sensations that begin or worsen during periods of rest or inactivity such as lying or sitting?
Do you find that the unpleasant sensations are partially or totally relieved by movement such as walking or stretching, for at least as long as the activity continues?
Do you find that the unpleasant sensations are worse at night or that they only occur at night?
If you answered yes to all of the above questions then you may be suffering from RLS.
Treating Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) Although there is medication available that is effective in the treatment of RLS, it is also important to consider the following adjustments to your lifestyle.
Avoid medication that causes RLS symptoms (see causes of RLS). Do not stop or change medication before consulting your doctor.
Take control of your sleep by having regular sleep and wake times and by making your bedroom a peaceful, restful environment. (This means no TV or working in your bedroom).
Use activities that relieve symptoms such as massage, a walk before bedtime or a hot bath or cold shower.
Moderate exercise may help, but avoid excessive exercise if this triggers symptoms
Keep your bodyweight within healthy limits and eat a healthy balanced diet.
Data on file
Hening WA. Current Guidelines and Standards of Practice for Restless Legs Syndrome. The Am Jnl of Med 2007 Vol 120 (1A): S22-S27.