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Restless Legs Syndrome Q&A

Monday, February 15, 2016 7:33 AM

Have you ever had too much coffee or pop and it seems as if you cannot stop moving your legs? Some people experience an uncomfortable sensation when they do not indulge and move their legs – this is typically known as restless legs syndrome.

Camelia Musleh, MD, Neurology at NorthShore, helps further explore and explain what restless legs syndrome is and what you can do if you are diagnosed.

What is restless leg syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a disorder that affects the nervous system. It creates a strong urge to move the legs – and sometimes arms – to relieve the uncomfortable feeling. The sensation occurs while at rest and becomes worse at nighttime. This sensation can interfere with sleep which classifies restless legs syndrome as a sleep-related movement disorder.

What are the symptoms of restless leg syndrome?

Symptoms of restless legs syndrome are often described as deep, uncomfortable, itchy, pins and needles, or a creepy, crawling feeling in the legs. The symptoms often make it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep, with the urge to move your legs often.

Who gets restless legs syndrome? How are you diagnosed?

Up to 10% of adults in the United States experience restless legs syndrome. Restless legs syndrome is more common in women than in men. It can begin in childhood but it is more common in adults. The diagnosis is made clinically through a careful history. It is important to have an interview with a physician because there are many other diagnoses which can mimic restless legs syndrome.

There are typically four criteria that Dr. Musleh looks for in diagnosing restless legs syndrome:

  1. A strong urge to move your legs which is usually accompanied by unpleasant leg sensations.
  2. You feel partial or complete relief of the uncomfortable sensation when you move.
  3. The symptoms begin while at rest. The longer you are at rest – sitting or lying down – the worse the symptoms feel.
  4. The symptoms are worse in the evening or night, although some patients experience symptoms during the day.

Are there different levels of restless legs syndrome?

The severity of restless legs syndrome can range from mild to intolerable and symptoms can evolve over time. In severe cases, the symptoms of restless legs syndrome can be disabling.

How can you manage restless legs syndrome?

Once diagnosed, secondary causes for restless legs syndrome may be investigated. This can include a review of your medication list as well as measuring iron stores in your body. The syndrome can usually be managed with lifestyle changes and medications.

Lifestyle changes include:

  • Reduced caffeine, alcohol and tobacco intake
  • Moderate exercise
  • Massage therapy
  • Hot or cold pack

Supplements such as iron or medications may also be beneficial in treating the symptoms. You should speak to your doctor about whether these options would be right for you.

When did you realize you had restless legs syndrome? What treatment works best for you?