The Hidden Epidemic of Restless Legs Syndrome

The miserable have no other medicine, but only hope.  – William Shakespeare

What Does Restless Legs Syndrome Feel Like?

The feeling of restless legs has been described many different ways; As prickly, jittery, pulling, an electrical feeling, pressure, fidgety, ants in the pants, heebie-jeebies, a deep ache, a cramp that doesn’t fully develop and on and on.  Although Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is treatable but not yet curable, the only way to find relief is to either keep moving or find a doctor that trusts you know what symptoms you are experiencing and prescribes medication.

Who Does it Affect?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, Restless Legs Syndrome affects approximately 10% of adults in the U.S. Researchers believe that RLS is commonly unrecognized or misdiagnosed as insomnia or other neurological, muscular or orthopedic conditions.

What is it?

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, is a neurologic sensorimotor disorder that is characterized by an overwhelming urge to move the legs when they are at rest. The urge to move the legs is usually, but not always, accompanied by unpleasant sensations as described above.

It is less common but possible to have RLS symptoms in the arms, face, torso, and genital region. RLS symptoms occur during inactivity and they are temporarily relieved by movement or pressure. Symptoms of RLS are most severe in the evening and nighttime hours and can profoundly disrupt a patient’s sleep and daily life.

It’s been my personal experience that many doctor’s do not even understand the severity and magnitude of daily disruption RLS actually has on a person’s life.  I’ve been told as recently as this week that RLS is a nighttime affliction alone and is not experienced during daylight hours.  The latter statement for most RLS sufferers is so very not true as we have all experienced a bout of RLS during wakefulness at some point in the disease process.  There is simply no rhyme or reason to RLS and an ignorant statement to make. Especially coming from someone who has not ever experienced the agony of RLS.

What Causes RLS?

The root cause of RLS is Unknown.  Yet, they have broken it down to two types.  They are:

Primary RLS  is the most common type of RLS. It is also referred to as familial (because it is hereditary) or idiopathic (because the causes are unknown) RLS.

Secondary RLS , on the other hand, is believed to be caused by a separate underlying medical condition or in association with the use of certain drugs.

For myself, there is a double whammy.  It’s familial as well as medicinally induced because of taking Rexulti. Rexulti causes restlessness as a side affect.  I was taking it before bed as I do most of the psychotropic’s that I’m on, because it’s easier.  As it’s been my routine for years.  However, I’m having to learn to take Rexulti with my morning doses instead.

Who Gets RLS?

Both men and women and can start at any age. It may be confused with growing pains or restlessness when experienced by children. In addition, the severity of the disorder appears to increase with age. Older patients experience symptoms more frequently and for longer periods of time.

How is it Treated?

The key to living with RLS is managing the symptoms. Lifestyle changes, like limiting  caffeine and alcohol, taking iron supplements or a hot bath, or initiating an exercise plan, and seeing a heath care professional to discuss treatment options can help. Everyone experiences RLS differently, so it is important to work with your health care professional to determine the best way for you to control your symptoms. A detailed list of some other lifestyle changes you and your health care professional may want to consider include:

  • Checking to see if there is an underlying iron or vitamin deficiency and then possibly supplementing your diet with iron, vitamin B12 or folate.
  • Looking at medications you may be taking which could make RLS symptoms worse. These may include drugs used to treat high blood pressure, heart conditions, nausea, colds, allergies, and depression.
  • Looking at any herbal and over-the-counter medicines you may be taking to see if they could be worsening your RLS.
  • Identifying habits and activities that worsen RLS symptoms.
  • Looking at your diet to assure it is healthy and balanced.
  • Eliminating or lessening your alcohol intake.
  • Looking at various activities that may help you personally deal with RLS.
    • These could include walking, stretching, taking a hot or cold bath, massage, acupressure, or relaxation techniques.
    • Also keeping your mind engaged with activities like discussions, needlework or video games when you have to stay seated.
    • Implementing a program of good sleep habits.
    • Reducing or eliminating caffeine from your diet to aid in general  sleep hygiene .

Anyone going through a bout of RLS knows you simply can not sit still enough to do needlework.  At least, I can not!  I’m one that has to pace aimlessly about the house, porch or yard (weather permitting) while going through a spell.  I got the above ideas from the National Sleep Foundation.  Love how lighthearted the ideas seem when I type them out, but during a spell, nothing is lighthearted at all.  It’s miserable and maddening.

How Do I Know if I Have RLS?

While there are no lab tests to diagnose RLS, your doctor may be able to make an official diagnosis given your responses to several simple questions about your symptoms. These include:

  • Do you have an urge to move your legs, usually accompanied by uncomfortable leg sensations?
  • Do your sensations begin or worsen during rest or inactivity, such as lying down or sitting?
  • Are your sensations partially or totally relieved by movement, such as walking or stretching?
  • Are your sensations worse in the evening or at night, or do they only occur in the evening and at night?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to talk things over with your doctor.


Information from:
National Sleep Foundation
Restless Legs Syndrome by Robert H. Yoakum
Personal experience

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