Restless Legs Syndrome (also known as Willis-Ekbom disease) is an unpleasant ailment that affects about 5 to 15 percent of people. The syndrome usually affects people over the age of 40 and its prevalence increases with age.
Here are some questions and answers about Restless Legs Syndrome.
How does Restless Legs feel like?
The syndrome causes unpleasant sensations in the legs (legs, calves, feet …), especially at rest, mainly in the evening or at night. You feel better if you move your legs.
Symptoms are unique. One may feel a stinging sensation, the other one may feel burn and the third may have symptoms in the hands. Severe pain is not typical, but in the most severe cases, the symptoms can be painful. Restless legs are clearly distinguished from cramps, ie muscle contractions of the lower limbs.
Other symptoms may include insomnia, restless sleep, depression and daytime fatigue.
Restless Legs Syndrome is diagnosed, when the disorder occurs at least three times a week for at least three months. The syndrome may occur intermittently. Mild symptoms usually do not require medication.
When Do Symptoms of Restless Legs Occur?
Symptoms usually occur while sleeping: in the evening and at night. Feeling uncomfortable forces you to get up and move your legs. Symptoms can also be troublesome while sitting in an airplane or on a train.
What is the cause of Restless Legs Syndrome?
The syndrome is constantly being studied. It appears to be a neurological disorder associated with dopamine metabolism in the central nervous system. Iron deficiency increases the symptoms because iron is needed for the functioning of the dopamine system.
There are also indications that genetic factors contribute to the syndrome. Genetic studies have revealed genes, that explain how people who are related to each other have the syndrome. However, the mechanism of the disease has not yet been fully elucidated.
The beliefs that wearing rubber boots or foot fatigue would cause restless legs are not true. But the symptom may be due to iron deficiency (the incidence in pregnant women may range from 11% to 27%) or disease (20% to 60% in dialysis patients).
However, in more than half of the cases, the symptoms appear in their own right without any predisposing factor or illness.
A study published in early 2015 found that the cause of restless legs symptoms may be the lack of oxygen in the legs.
Which factors increase the likelihood of Restless Legs Syndrome?
Hereditary factors, female gender and severe chronic kidney disease, diabetes, rheumatism and fibromyalgia increase the likelihood of the syndrome. Certain drugs (tricyclic antidepressants, serotonin reuptake inhibitors and beta-blockers), coffee and alcohol can also increase symptoms.
Can the symptoms of Restless Legs be relieved?
Many treatments are based on boosting peripheral blood circulation. Unfortunately, massage and cooling do little to relieve symptoms. The heat can even make them worse.
The means to relieve symptoms are actually personal. Some patients receive instant help with lower limb spray or foot baths. Warm and loose night socks or leggings make it easier for others to feel comfortable. Some have received help in swimming or exercising before going to bed.
Supplements (folic acid, vitamin E, magnesium and iron) are also said to have symptomatic relief. However, there is no clear evidence of these means in extensive studies. The response is very individual.
It is important to keep the sleeping environment as calm and cool as possible. Exercise and stretching during the day and in the evening are also recommended, but too much exercise is usually harmful.
When do I need to see a doctor about Restless Legs?
If self-care does not help and fatigue diminishes the quality of life, you should discuss the symptoms with your doctor.
Symptoms can be alleviated by medicines that affect the central nervous system. For example, medicines developed to treat Parkinson’s disease may completely eliminate the symptoms.
If you have severe pain in your feet, analgesics can help relieve your symptoms. However, NSAIDs and anticonvulsants do not help. In severe cases, a unique combination of drugs can be designed for the patient. Identifying the cause of the symptom is also important to the treatment plan.
If a patient is found to have low iron levels in the blood, iron medication may help relieve the symptoms of restless legs. But iron should not be eaten without monitoring iron values, because too much iron is toxic.
Acupuncture has also been tried as a treatment option, but there is still insufficient evidence of its effectiveness.
Can the symptoms of Restless Legs be prevented?
Symptoms cannot be completely prevented, but the symptoms can be controlled by ensuring a good night’s sleep and ensuring that the sleeping environment is calm, comfortable and suitably cool.
How do you identify Restless Legs Syndrome?
The following questions can help you determine if you have Restless Legs Syndrome. Please read the following questions carefully and answer them yes or no. Add up all yes-answers. If you answer yes to three or more questions, you may have Restless Legs Syndrome. If you answered yes to five or more questions, you probably have Restless Legs.
- The symptoms do not occur as bad or may not occur at all,when I’m up,while moving my feet, while I rub the soles of my feet against the sheets, after taking hot or cold foot bath or while rubbing my legs
- Feeling uncomfortable in the legs after sitting longer, for example, sitting in front of the TV, in the car, in the theater, in the church or in a meeting.
- The discomfort usually comes in the evenings and at night
- I often have difficulty sleeping and falling asleep
- Bed partner tells that my legs are twitching or kicking while sleeping
- Sometimes my feet twitch unintentionally when awake
- I am oftentiredduring the day
- Medical research has not found any reason for these sensations
- My other family members have similar sensations
Self-care tips for Restless Legs
Sleep in a cool room with socks on
In addition to medication, restless legs can be tried to calm down at home. For example, coffee can exacerbate the situation, but alcohol in small doses can sometimes even relieve it.
– Being active, exercising and being in good shape clearly help. Nutrition also seems to matter. It seems that wheat and sugary foods can aggravate Restless Legs, but the exact causes are unknown. The diet should be varied.
– There is a clear benefit from the use of magnesium minerals.
In the evening, try to ease the symptoms by lifting your feet up on the wall and rubbing them. It is worth paying attention to the temperature of the home. – Warm air often worsens symptoms. The bedroom should be suitably cool. On the other hand, there is also evidence that sleeping with socks on could relieve some of the symptoms. So cool room, but warm socks to wear.
Restless Legs Syndrome self-care summary
- Spraying the lower limbs with warm water or a warm bath
- Warm night socks
- Cold sprays
- Brisk but not too heavy exercise
- Melatonin tablets or night milk
- Supplements such as iron, folic acid, vitamin E and magnesium
- Avoiding coffee, alcohol and smoking
- Healthy and varied nutrition
- Ozone bubble bath provided by a foot therapist