What Is Restless Leg Syndrome?

Reviewed Jan 19, 2017

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Summary

  • Restless leg syndrome is now named Willis Ekbom disease.
  • Restless leg syndrome can strike people of all ages and is more common in women.
  • Medicines are available to treat restless leg syndrome.

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a nervous system disorder. It was recently renamed Willis-Ekbom disease. It causes uncomfortable or painful feelings that get worse as people relax and go to sleep. The urge to move the leg can’t be controlled. People with RLS find relief with movement, which can disrupt sleep.

RLS is common. In fact, up to 10 percent of people in the United States are thought to have RLS that ranges from mild to severe. Nearly 1 million children may have it as well. About twice as many women as men get RLS. People with severe cases are often middle-aged or older.

Research points to some possible causes. One theory is that people with RLS may not have enough iron in the brain. There may be a problem when the system that controls iron levels crosses paths with genes linked to RLS risk. A flawed dopamine system in the brain may also be at work. Dopamine is a chemical signal that sends messages in between nerve cells.

Symptoms

People who have RLS experience throbbing, pulling, creeping or other feelings that can be annoying or painful. If you have RLS, you will have an urge to move the limb that bothers you that you can’t fight. It usually affects one or both legs, with sensations felt anywhere from the thigh to the ankle. Rarely are the feet affected. Some people also feel it in their arms.

Symptoms often set in for people as they lie down and relax at night. It can also happen after sitting for a long time, such as on a flight or during a movie. It can get worse throughout the night, although there is a stretch of time in the early morning with no symptoms. As a result, people with RLS often struggle to fall and stay asleep. This can cause intense fatigue that impacts jobs, relationships and daily tasks. It can even cause depression. What’s more, symptoms get worse with age.

Cases range from mild to severe. People with mild RLS have some sleep disruptions. In moderate cases, symptoms appear once or twice a week with a more serious sleep delay. In severe cases, people face symptoms more than twice a week. The result is more serious sleep disruptions and daytime fatigue.

Many people do not seek help from a doctor because their symptoms are mild. They may also worry that doctors will not take them seriously. Some people even think RLS can’t be treated. But RLS is a very real condition, and there are ways to treat it.

Coping with RLS

If you have RLS, there are changes you can make in your life to help with your symptoms.

  • Try lowering intake of caffeine, alcohol and tobacco.
  • Doctors may suggest supplements to fix low levels of iron, folate and magnesium.
  • A hot bath, massage, heating pad or ice pack may provide relief.

There are also medicines to treat RLS. The following drugs have been approved for treating moderate to severe RLS:

  • Ropinirole
  • Pramipexole
  • Gabapentin
  • Enacarbil
  • Rotigotine

Doctors may also prescribe other medicines, such as:

  • Opioids
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Dopaminergics
  • Benzodiazepines (central nervous system depressants)

The important thing to remember is that help is available. If you are uncomfortable or in pain, talk to your doctor. There are ways to feel better and protect your sleep.

Resources

National Sleep Foundation
www.sleepfoundation.org

Willis-Ekbom Disease Foundation
http://www.rls.org/

By Sarah Stone
Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/restless_legs/detail_restless_legs.htm; Johns Hopkins Medicine, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/neurology_neurosurgery/centers_clinics/restless-legs-syndrome/
Reviewed by Gary R. Proctor, MD, Associate Chief Medical Officer, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Restless leg syndrome is now named Willis Ekbom disease.
  • Restless leg syndrome can strike people of all ages and is more common in women.
  • Medicines are available to treat restless leg syndrome.

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a nervous system disorder. It was recently renamed Willis-Ekbom disease. It causes uncomfortable or painful feelings that get worse as people relax and go to sleep. The urge to move the leg can’t be controlled. People with RLS find relief with movement, which can disrupt sleep.

RLS is common. In fact, up to 10 percent of people in the United States are thought to have RLS that ranges from mild to severe. Nearly 1 million children may have it as well. About twice as many women as men get RLS. People with severe cases are often middle-aged or older.

Research points to some possible causes. One theory is that people with RLS may not have enough iron in the brain. There may be a problem when the system that controls iron levels crosses paths with genes linked to RLS risk. A flawed dopamine system in the brain may also be at work. Dopamine is a chemical signal that sends messages in between nerve cells.

Symptoms

People who have RLS experience throbbing, pulling, creeping or other feelings that can be annoying or painful. If you have RLS, you will have an urge to move the limb that bothers you that you can’t fight. It usually affects one or both legs, with sensations felt anywhere from the thigh to the ankle. Rarely are the feet affected. Some people also feel it in their arms.

Symptoms often set in for people as they lie down and relax at night. It can also happen after sitting for a long time, such as on a flight or during a movie. It can get worse throughout the night, although there is a stretch of time in the early morning with no symptoms. As a result, people with RLS often struggle to fall and stay asleep. This can cause intense fatigue that impacts jobs, relationships and daily tasks. It can even cause depression. What’s more, symptoms get worse with age.

Cases range from mild to severe. People with mild RLS have some sleep disruptions. In moderate cases, symptoms appear once or twice a week with a more serious sleep delay. In severe cases, people face symptoms more than twice a week. The result is more serious sleep disruptions and daytime fatigue.

Many people do not seek help from a doctor because their symptoms are mild. They may also worry that doctors will not take them seriously. Some people even think RLS can’t be treated. But RLS is a very real condition, and there are ways to treat it.

Coping with RLS

If you have RLS, there are changes you can make in your life to help with your symptoms.

  • Try lowering intake of caffeine, alcohol and tobacco.
  • Doctors may suggest supplements to fix low levels of iron, folate and magnesium.
  • A hot bath, massage, heating pad or ice pack may provide relief.

There are also medicines to treat RLS. The following drugs have been approved for treating moderate to severe RLS:

  • Ropinirole
  • Pramipexole
  • Gabapentin
  • Enacarbil
  • Rotigotine

Doctors may also prescribe other medicines, such as:

  • Opioids
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Dopaminergics
  • Benzodiazepines (central nervous system depressants)

The important thing to remember is that help is available. If you are uncomfortable or in pain, talk to your doctor. There are ways to feel better and protect your sleep.

Resources

National Sleep Foundation
www.sleepfoundation.org

Willis-Ekbom Disease Foundation
http://www.rls.org/

By Sarah Stone
Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/restless_legs/detail_restless_legs.htm; Johns Hopkins Medicine, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/neurology_neurosurgery/centers_clinics/restless-legs-syndrome/
Reviewed by Gary R. Proctor, MD, Associate Chief Medical Officer, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Restless leg syndrome is now named Willis Ekbom disease.
  • Restless leg syndrome can strike people of all ages and is more common in women.
  • Medicines are available to treat restless leg syndrome.

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a nervous system disorder. It was recently renamed Willis-Ekbom disease. It causes uncomfortable or painful feelings that get worse as people relax and go to sleep. The urge to move the leg can’t be controlled. People with RLS find relief with movement, which can disrupt sleep.

RLS is common. In fact, up to 10 percent of people in the United States are thought to have RLS that ranges from mild to severe. Nearly 1 million children may have it as well. About twice as many women as men get RLS. People with severe cases are often middle-aged or older.

Research points to some possible causes. One theory is that people with RLS may not have enough iron in the brain. There may be a problem when the system that controls iron levels crosses paths with genes linked to RLS risk. A flawed dopamine system in the brain may also be at work. Dopamine is a chemical signal that sends messages in between nerve cells.

Symptoms

People who have RLS experience throbbing, pulling, creeping or other feelings that can be annoying or painful. If you have RLS, you will have an urge to move the limb that bothers you that you can’t fight. It usually affects one or both legs, with sensations felt anywhere from the thigh to the ankle. Rarely are the feet affected. Some people also feel it in their arms.

Symptoms often set in for people as they lie down and relax at night. It can also happen after sitting for a long time, such as on a flight or during a movie. It can get worse throughout the night, although there is a stretch of time in the early morning with no symptoms. As a result, people with RLS often struggle to fall and stay asleep. This can cause intense fatigue that impacts jobs, relationships and daily tasks. It can even cause depression. What’s more, symptoms get worse with age.

Cases range from mild to severe. People with mild RLS have some sleep disruptions. In moderate cases, symptoms appear once or twice a week with a more serious sleep delay. In severe cases, people face symptoms more than twice a week. The result is more serious sleep disruptions and daytime fatigue.

Many people do not seek help from a doctor because their symptoms are mild. They may also worry that doctors will not take them seriously. Some people even think RLS can’t be treated. But RLS is a very real condition, and there are ways to treat it.

Coping with RLS

If you have RLS, there are changes you can make in your life to help with your symptoms.

  • Try lowering intake of caffeine, alcohol and tobacco.
  • Doctors may suggest supplements to fix low levels of iron, folate and magnesium.
  • A hot bath, massage, heating pad or ice pack may provide relief.

There are also medicines to treat RLS. The following drugs have been approved for treating moderate to severe RLS:

  • Ropinirole
  • Pramipexole
  • Gabapentin
  • Enacarbil
  • Rotigotine

Doctors may also prescribe other medicines, such as:

  • Opioids
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Dopaminergics
  • Benzodiazepines (central nervous system depressants)

The important thing to remember is that help is available. If you are uncomfortable or in pain, talk to your doctor. There are ways to feel better and protect your sleep.

Resources

National Sleep Foundation
www.sleepfoundation.org

Willis-Ekbom Disease Foundation
http://www.rls.org/

By Sarah Stone
Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/restless_legs/detail_restless_legs.htm; Johns Hopkins Medicine, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/neurology_neurosurgery/centers_clinics/restless-legs-syndrome/
Reviewed by Gary R. Proctor, MD, Associate Chief Medical Officer, Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical or health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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