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Restless legs syndrome can range from an unpleasant nerve sensation to severe discomfort – causing the legs to ‘jump’, and stopping you from getting a good night’s sleep.
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Restless legs syndrome, sometimes known as Willis-Ekborn Disease, is a condition that affects your nervous system – resulting in a restless sensation in your legs, making you want to move them. Most people who have Restless Legs Syndrome experience symptoms in the evenings, when sitting or lying down, or when trying to get to sleep. There are things that you can do to make the symptoms better for a short time, but it’s important that you don’t confuse relief with resolution, and still get clinically approved treatment.
Whilst symptoms can range from mild to severe, the key complaint is that restless legs syndrome disrupts healthy, natural sleep. If the condition is because of other underlying health problems, poor sleep can make pre-existing issues worse.
Although restless legs syndrome can affect anyone, it’s more common in women and people entering middle age. It’s more common, for example, in women over forty than in men and children. There are a few potential causes of RLS: neurologists understand that it’s related to levels of a chemical called Dopamine in the body, because it controls our muscle movement. Restless legs syndrome could be a result of an iron deficiency, anemia, kidney failure or other existing medical conditions, such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. It also affects one in five pregnant women, usually in their third trimester. Evidence also suggests that RLS is related to a dysfunction in one of the sections of the brain that controls movement (called the basal ganglia), which uses the brain chemical, dopamine.
Allen, R., et al. Restless legs syndrome/Willis-Ekbom disease diagnostic criteria: updated International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group (IRLSSG) consensus criteria--history, rationale, description, and significance, 2014. Sleep medicine, 15(8), 860–873.
Ohayon, M.M., O’Hara, R. and Vitiello, M.V., 2012. Epidemiology of restless legs syndrome: A synthesis of the literature. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 16(4), pp.283–295.
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Restless legs syndrome can be caused by a faulty gene, pre-existing medical conditions, various deficiencies, anemia, or by damage to the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia is the part of the brain that helps control your nervous system and motor functions; it relies on dopamine transmitters to send signals to various parts of your body. When dopamine receptors are damaged in the basal ganglia, signals become confused, and incorrect messages are sent down the spine and throughout your nervous system. This causes strange sensations, involuntary movements or spasms, and an overwhelming restless feeling. The lifestyle factors which can contribute to the development or severity of restless legs syndrome symptoms are: stress, poor sleeping patterns, smoking, and drinking alcohol. However these factors aren’t thought to cause restless legs syndrome.
As the name suggests, restless legs syndrome causes a feeling of restlessness in your legs. An overwhelming urge to move your legs, a tingling sensation, and physical jumping in your thighs, calves and feet. These symptoms can range from a slightly irritating tingling sensation, to an uncontrollable compulsion to move your legs, which can keep you up all night and cause stress and fatigue. Restless legs syndrome isn’t just related to the legs, either. Sometimes the symptoms of restless legs syndrome can be found in your arms as well.
While there is no medical evidence to suggest that restless legs syndrome can cause more serious health concerns, it can and will have a detrimental effect on your overall lifestyle and health, because it can cause sleep deprivation. Without healthy, natural sleep, all health conditions can worsen. If you develop restless legs syndrome earlier in life, you’re more likely to experience worsening symptoms over time, so it’s important to find the best treatment for you.
The most effective means of treating restless legs syndrome is usually dopamine agonists. Dopamine agonists correct the insufficient levels of dopamine in your body, a deficiency often thought to cause the condition. Dopamine agonists will usually be prescribed as tablets.
Restless legs syndrome has multiple causes and factors, which is why we strongly recommend talking to us, so we can recommend the best treatment course for you – taking into account your symptoms, health status, and background. Every person is different, and we always take this into account. We’ll consider your symptoms, your health status, any pre-existing conditions (such as diabetes or kidney issues) and your medical background to help you choose the best treatment for you. It’ll usually involve addressing the problem in the body’s dopamine receptors – so the best treatment is usually dopamine agonists. Sometimes, though, RLS symptoms can be controlled by finding and treating an associated medical condition, such as peripheral neuropathy, diabetes, or iron deficiency anemia.
Restless legs syndrome is best managed through approved treatment, used with healthy lifestyle changes to improve or maintain your general health. Regular exercise, healthy diet choices and relaxing activities are all recommended. It’s important to keep your overall health in check in order to combat restless legs syndrome. High levels of stress can worsen the problem, so take care to de-stress in whatever way works for you, whether that means a light stroll, a yoga session, or practicing mindfulness.
Role of Dopamine Receptor Agonists in the Treatment of Restless Legs Syndrome. CNS Drugs, 18(1), pp.27–36.
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