The restless legs syndrome (RLS) is also known as the Wittmaack-Ekbom’s syndrome and it is a medical disorder described as an overpowering impulse to continually move the body in an attempt to end disconcerting or awkward feelings. And, indeed, the uncomfortable symptoms of RLS appear while the affected body parts are idle, at rest or during sleep and movement provides relief, albeit a temporary one.
This condition can affect the torso or the arms but it most commonly affects the legs and thus its name refers to the legs — restless legs syndrome. Furthermore, RLS equally affects both males and females and it can set in at any age, during the early years of childhood. RLS is classified as a progressive disease as it often becomes more severe as time passes. However, a few rare cases have been documented where RLS has inexplicably disappeared to never return again.
Symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome
The severity of the symptoms among sufferers of RLS varies greatly. On the one extreme end of the spectrum, some patients hardly feel anything unusual but are still driven by the strong urge to move. Other patients on the opposite extreme side of this spectrum experience a myriad of sensations which can most accurately be described as prickly pins and needles, marching ants or creepy crawlers, electric currents, itching or tickling, pulling or tugging, burning or hurting.
Whichever level of severity a patient experiences, the sensations aroused by RLS are so unique and different from any others that they are extremely hard to put into descriptive phrases. Patients often rightfully claim that only those who have experienced it can fully appreciate the true nature of RLS.
Patients of RLS often begin experiencing its symptoms immediately upon resting of the affected body parts but sometimes these may become apparent only after some time passes. Likewise, symptoms tend to completely or partially disappear immediately with the beginning of movement. Most patients find that walking is the most effective form of movement but some may find that yoga, bike riding or stretching are equally effective or more so.
Symptoms of RLS usually disrupt sleep which leads to daytime exhaustions and drowsiness while the frequent mobility to relieve its symptoms often leads to spontaneous weight loss.
Causes of the Restless Legs Syndrome
It is believed that RLS is caused be any number of underlying medical conditions or disorders such as iron deficiency, pregnancy, sleep apnea, uremia, diabetes, thyroid disease, peripheral neuropathy, Parkinson’s disease and a variety of autoimmune disorders.
It has been found that certain over-the-counter and prescribed drugs can cause or exacerbate RLS and those may include anti-nausea drugs, antihistamines, antidepressants, tranquillizers and sleeping pills. Other causes which have also been associated with the development or the worsening of RLS are certain medical procedures such as surgeries, genetics or heredity and imbalanced lifestyles.
Treating the Restless Legs Syndrome
In cases where RLS is caused by underlying conditions, treatment of such conditions will greatly relieve its symptoms. However, where there are no associated conditions, lifestyle changes are the most effective treatments and they may include:
- Warm baths and massage therapies.
- Alternating hot and cold packs.
- Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation or yoga.
- Setting up an optimal sleeping environment which is also known as sleep hygiene.
- Avoiding caffeine and all other stimulants.
- Reduction or total avoidance of alcohol and tobacco.
- Establishing a daily exercise routine.
- Reducing or eliminating processed foods, refined sugars, carbohydrates and starches, saturated fats and animal proteins while increasing fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, legume and whole grains.
- Retaining mental alertness during the day and on through the evening before going to sleep.
- Drug therapies such as pain relievers, Parkinson’s disease medications, muscle relaxants and medications for epilepsy tend to relieve symptoms of RLS. Narcotic medications have proven to be effective as well, but they are addictive and should be avoided whenever possible.