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Restless legs syndrome: what it is and how to treat it

All you need to know about restless legs syndrome 
Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease (WED), is a commonly underdiagnosed yet treatable neurological disorder that can affect anyone regardless of age. It results in an irresistible urge to move the legs and possibly other parts of the body, and is often accompanied by unpleasant sensations usually associated with Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD). It can also affect sleep patterns.

Recent studies have discovered gene variants that contribute to the risk for RLS. It often runs in families but may also be present as the result of another condition such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, iron deficiency anaemia, and some other neurological diseases. Some drugs are also reported to cause RLS.

Do you have RLS?

These are the symptoms:

  • A strong urge to move your legs, accompanied by uncomfortable and unpleasant sensations in the legs (sometimes the arms and other parts of the body too).
  • The above symptoms worsen over time and become present when resting or inactive (such as sitting or lying down).
  • Continuous walking or stretching relieves the symptoms.
  • Symptoms are worse in the evening or at night, or only occur in the evening or at nighttime.
  • Symptoms are not solely accounted for by another condition (such as leg cramps, positional discomfort, leg swelling).

An accurate diagnosis is important in order to receive the necessary treatment for RLS. If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may prescribe medication.

Read: 7 ways to make sense of OTC-medicine labels

How can it be treated?

There is no single cure or treatment. Instead, your doctor will probably recommend a combination of lifestyle and diet changes and medication.

Recommendations for RLS symptom management:

  • Check iron (ferritin) levels and possibly supplement your diet with iron.
  • Vitamins and supplements can assist with symptom management.
  • Examine other prescription, over-the-counter and herbal medications you may be taking. Commonly used medications for high blood pressure, nausea, colds, allergies and depression can trigger RLS.
  • Identify and track habits or activities that worsen symptoms.
  • Ensure you are following a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Limit or completely eliminate alcohol and caffeine from your diet. (This should help improve sleep.)
  • Find activities that assist with alleviating symptoms such as walking, stretching, soaking in hot or cold baths, massage, acupuncture or relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga.
  • Find ways to keep your mind engaged while sitting or lying down, such as crosswords, sudoku, needlework or discussions.
  • Avoid nicotine.
  • Try to develop a coping strategy that involves good sleeping habits and routines, regular exercise and massage, or hot and cold baths.
  • Alternative medication and treatment options can also be explored.

If you suffer from RLS, remember that you are not alone. Always see your doctor if you are concerned about your health in any way.

Here are some resources for extra information and support:

https://rls.org

http://www.sassm.org/sleep-disorders/restless-legs-syndrome.htm

http://www.health24.com/Medical/Leg/Leg-problems/Drugs-may-help-relieve-restless-legs-syndrome-20130305

http://www.healthline.com/health/restless-leg-syndrome/treatments#overview1

Photo: iStock/Yulia-Images

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