Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a medical disorder characterized by an urge or need to move the legs to stop pain or unpleasant sensations. It most often occurs in middle-aged and older adults. The cause is not known however it occurs most commonly in patients with pregnancy, kidney disease, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, peripheral neuropathy and iron deficiency anemia. It is also associated with the use of calcium channel blockers, lithium, and caffeine. Withdrawal from sedatives can lead to restless leg syndrome, and its symptoms are worsened with stress.

Restless leg syndrome can be passed down in families although the gene associated with it has not yet been identified.

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) commonly results in an inability to sleep (insomnia) which can lead to daytime sleepiness, depression, anxiety, memory loss and difficulty with concentration.

RLS leads to sensations in the lower legs between the knee and ankle which are uncomfortable unless you move your legs. These sensations usually occur at night when you lie down. Occasionally, they may occur during the day when you sit for long periods of time. The sensations are described as creeping, crawling, aching, tingling, bubbling, or painful. These sensations less commonly occur in the upper leg, feet, or arms.

An irresistible urge to move your legs or walk usually relieves the discomfort. Symptoms can make it difficult to sit. This may make driving dangerous and negatively affect work (meetings) or school (class) because of the sitting requirements.

There is no specific test for restless leg syndrome. Unless you have nerve disease, tests are usually normal. Tests will be ordered by your doctor to rule out disorders with similar symptoms.

There is no known cure for restless leg syndrome. Treatment is aimed at reducing stress and helping the muscles relax. Massage, stretching and hot baths may improve symptoms of RLS. Pramipexole (Mirapex) or Ropinirole (Requip) in low doses may improve symptoms. Gabapentin or pregabalin at bedtime may improve symptoms. None of these medications lead to dependence or addiction. Iron supplements for patients with RLS and iron deficiency anemia.

Tania Faruque MD is the medical director of Palomar Spine & Pain, in Escondido, CA (North San Diego County).

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