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Restless Leg Syndrome and Sleep


Restless leg syndrome, which is also called RLS, is a sleep disorder that affects roughly fifteen percent of all adults. It is more common in women than men and the occurence of restless leg syndrome increases with age. If you suffer from arthritis, varicose veins or diabetes, it can increase the odds of developing RLS.

This sleep disorder is characterized by an uncontrollable urge to move the lower legs, knees and occasionally the arms. Sometimes painful sensations accompany the urge to move. People that suffer from this sleep disorder describe the feelings and sensations in different ways. Many describe a tingling, itching or pulling sensation. Still others say it feels prickly or burns.

The sensations which are typical of this sleep disorder can occur anytime during the day or night. RLS that occurs at night can have a major effect on quality of sleep. The symptoms can cause one to get in and out of bed repeatedly which can delay or disrupt sleep. Since sleep in repeatedly interrupted, extreme daytime sleepiness is common.

The combination of always feeling tired and the symptoms themselves can cause a person with RLS to alter their lifestyle. People that have this disorder may also experience symptoms of depression.

Researchers believe that restless leg syndrome may be caused by malfunctions of the pathways in the brain that controls movement reflexes and sensations. Sometimes this sleep disorder is related to genetics.

RLS cannot be diagnosed by one single test. In many cases, a doctor makes the diagnosis of RLS based on the description of the symptoms. They also take into account family history, and the results of a routine medical examination and blood tests.

Many times the treatment for RLS is aimed at controlling the debilitating sensations that accompany this sleep disorder. Often iron supplements are prescribed because severe anemia has been linked to this disorder. Relaxation techniques, diet changes and the elimination of caffeine and alcohol help some sufferers of restless leg syndrome.

In most cases, this sleep disorder is treated with drugs. These drugs could include dopamine agents, benzodiazepines, opioids or anticonvulsants. Medications do not cure restless leg syndrome, but they manage the symptoms. People that suffer from this sleep disorder usually have to stay on their medications for the rest of their lives.


Brain and Mental Health


References and Sources: Medline, Pubmed, National Institutes of Health


last update: May 2009


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