What you don’t know about restless leg syndrome

by Jodi Shaw
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As we get older our bodies begin to change. How we react to stress and daily activities, the aches and pains we never used to feel become more prominent. One such ailment affects so many people (me included) is restless leg syndrome.

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a condition that is thought to affect around seven per cent of the population. Despite the whimsical nature of its name, it is a genuine medical condition that can cause acute discomfort and sleep problems in those who suffer from it.

At night my legs hurt so badly that hubby often has to rub them or I cannot go to sleep. The pain caused by the restlessness I feel in my legs often caused from sitting too long at the computer blogging for hours, and not taking breaks.

The symptoms of restless leg syndrome are characterized by sensations in the legs, often at night, such as aches, tingling, itchiness, pulling and crawling felt deep inside the leg.

The pain grows in magnitude until the sufferer feels compelled to move the affected limb or get up and move around which stops the symptoms briefly before starting to build in intensity again when movement ceases.

This cycle can be repeated for many minutes or hours. It can lead to significant disruption of sleep, even to those whose sleep in otherwise comfortable beds.

There is also a condition called periodic limb movement disorder, which can cause involuntary movements of the leg. Restless leg syndrome on its own does not produce this effect.

Restless baby

No one knows why but women during pregnancy often experience restless leg syndrome. This usually disappears after birth. One theory is that the iron levels in a mother are too low during pregnancy, and it is thought that iron deficiency is one of the contributing factors in some cases of restless leg syndrome.

A study in 2010 found that women who suffered from restless leg syndrome during pregnancy often had it again with each subsequent pregnancy after, and in some cases a chronic form of RLS later on.

Restless leg syndrome can affect men and women of any age but seems to be prevalent in those over the age of 65. Sufferers report that symptoms of the condition also worsen with age and those who are over the age of 50 will typically suffer some or all of the symptoms on a daily basis, including significant sleep disruption.

Restless leg syndrome cannot be diagnosed via a blood test; instead, suspected sufferers must meet four criteria.

  1. feeling the urge to move their legs with aches and uncomfortable sensations
  2. The sensation must worsen while sitting or lying down
  3. Symptoms improve by a movement to some degree
  4. Pain worsens during the evening or overnight

Treatments

Restless leg syndrome suffers are tested for iron deficiencies with the option of iron supplements given to help relieve the symptoms. Boosting the iron levels in the body increases the level of dopamine in the brain, which can have a positive effect on the symptoms. Suffers can also take supplements such as magnesium and folic acid. There are also a few other non-medical treatments that can help.

  • Exercising on a regular basis to keep restless leg syndrome under control (note: too much though can increase symptoms of RLS so be careful)
  • Massage and stretching when symptoms become painful
  • Increasing water intake to help with blood flow

Have you ever suffered from restless leg syndrome? If you have, leave a comment below and share with us what has worked to help alleviate your pain.

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