Q. I’ve been seeing lots of references lately to “restless legs syndrome.” I’ve never heard of this condition. Is it rare?
A: Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) affects about one in ten adults in North America and Europe. RLS is found in both men and women but can begin in children. The percentage of people with RLS increases with age. And, seniors experience symptoms longer and more frequently.
Many researchers believe that RLS is under-reported. Victims of RLS are often diagnosed as suffering from insomnia, depression or a disorder of the nerves, muscles or skeleton.
RLS is a neurologic movement disorder. It produces uncomfortable sensations that cause an irresistible urge to move the legs. RLS symptoms can be relieved temporarily by movement. Symptoms occur during inactivity and strike most frequently during the evening. These attacks lead to sleep problems.
The following are 11 questions from the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation. If you answer “yes” to six or more of these, you may have RLS.
• When you sit or lie down, do you have a strong desire to move your legs?
• Does your desire to move your legs feel impossible to resist?
• Have you ever used the words “unpleasant,” “creepy-crawly,” “creeping,” “itching,” “pulling” or “tugging” to describe your symptoms to others?
• Does your desire to move often occur when you are resting or sitting still?
• Does moving your legs make you feel better?
• Do you complain of these symptoms more at night?
• Do you keep your bed partner awake with the jerking movements of your legs?
• Do you ever have involuntary leg movements while you are awake?
• Are you tired or unable to concentrate during the day?
• Do any of your family members have similar complaints?
• Does a trip to the doctor only reveal that nothing is wrong and there is no physical cause for your discomfort?
RLS may be inherited. About half of patients have a family history of the RLS. Also, there is a lower incidence of RLS in Asia than there is in North America and Europe.
There are two forms of RLS — primary and secondary. Primary RLS is unrelated to other disorders; its cause is unknown. Secondary RLS can be brought on by kidney failure, pregnancy, iron deficiency anemia, or some medications. Research has shown that there is a relationship between RLS and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Most people with RLS also have periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD), which causes leg twitching or jerking movements during sleep.
There are drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat RLS. These include Mirapex® and Requip®. Both drugs may make people fall asleep without warning. There are also several drugs approved for other conditions that help alleviate RLS symptoms.
It is possible to combat the symptoms in other ways. Walking, massage, stretching, hot or cold baths, vibration, acupressure, meditation and yoga can help.
Caffeine and alcohol can worsen RLS symptoms.