Understanding Restless Legs Syndrome

October 30, 2017

woman with restless legs syndromeDo you find yourself drifting off to sleep at night, just to be awakened by an involuntary muscle movement or an aching pain in your legs? An occasional muscle twitch or leg cramp is normal, but if this is a nightly occurrence, you may be suffering from restless legs syndrome.

What is Restless Legs Syndrome?

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a condition that can cause pain and the urge to move your legs when you are lying down or sitting. Doctors aren’t sure exactly what causes RLS, but they know that it is a disorder of the nervous system that affects around 10 percent of the population. It can be an issue for anyone, although it is found more often in women and people who are middle-aged or older.

The symptoms of RLS can mimic other diseases, so it is sometimes difficult to properly diagnose. Nerve problems, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s – each of these have symptoms that are similar to those of RLS.

Symptoms of RLS

People suffering from RLS often report that the condition worsens at night, keeping them from getting restful sleep. Because of this, RLS is sometimes also characterized as a sleep disorder. The reason for increased symptoms at night is attributed to the fact that RLS worsens when you are not moving.

RLS typically begins slowly, affecting your legs more and more as time goes on. If you have restless legs syndrome, you probably notice pain, cramping or aching deep in your legs, or a tingling, itching or burning sensation. This is accompanied by a nearly irresistible urge to move your legs to relieve the discomfort, hence, the restless legs. Symptoms can come and go, and range from mild to severe, though they are usually worse at night.

Causes of RLS

Since the root origin of RLS isn’t known, there are several factors associated with it that may or may not be the initiator of the problem. Some of these include (but are not limited to):

  • Genetics (approximately 50 percent of RLS sufferers have a family member with RLS)
  • Obesity
  • Chronic disease (diabetes, Parkinson’s, peripheral neuropathy)
  • Venous issues (varicose veins, poor circulation)
  • Medications (certain antihistamines and antidepressants)

Treatment Options for RLS

Diagnosing RLS is tricky, and involves blood tests and other diagnostic tools to rule out other conditions, as well as a discussion of your health history, medications, and symptoms. Once it is determined that you have RLS, there are several options that may help ease your symptoms, including:

  • Lifestyle changes – movement helps decrease RLS symptoms, so walking more often and more regularly can help. If you smoke, quitting may help, along with decreasing your intake of alcohol and caffeine may also help.
  • Better sleep habits – creating and sticking to a sleep schedule, including a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Self-care – leg massages, ice packs or heating pads applies to the legs, relaxation and a hot bath are also ways to help alleviate RLS symptoms.
  • Vein screening – because varicose veins and other leg circulation issues may be a cause of your RLS, regular checkups and necessary treatments can not only help your RLS, but ensure that your venous system is functioning properly.
  • Medications – over-the-counter pain relievers, as well as certain prescription drugs may also alleviate pain or aches associated with RLS.

At The Vein Center of Florida and The Vein Center of South Baldwin, we want to do what we can so you can live your best life. Through regular vein screenings, we can help diagnose associated conditions you may have, including restless legs syndrome. If you suffer from RLS, call us today at 1-800-910-VEIN to schedule a consultation with Dr. Jimenez.