If you sometimes have uncomfortable sensations in your legs such as pins and needles or crawling and itchy sensations, you may be suffering from a neurological disorder called “Restless Legs Syndrome” (RLS). RLS is a disorder in the part of the nervous system that affects the legs and causes the urge to move them - thus the name "Restless Legs Syndrome." Some experience these sensations in their arms and other parts of the body as well. Because this uncomfortable feeling is usually worse during a period of rest (lying or sitting), it often interferes with sleep and can also be considered a sleep disorder. People with RLS often not only have serious disruptions in sleep, but sometimes even their relationships as the disease causes ongoing distress.
Restless Legs Syndrome can range from mild to unbearable and is categorized as Primary or Secondary. Primary RLS has no know cause, usually begins slowly, and may come and go for months or years at a time. Because of the way it presents itself, it is often left unrecognized or misdiagnosed. Primary RLS is often progressive and gets worse with age. Children with RLS are often misdiagnosed as having “growing pains." Secondary RLS will most likely have a sudden onset after the age of 40 and may be daily from the onset.
It is believed that up to 10% of the US population may suffer Restless Legs Syndrome. While both sexes are affected with this condition, it is most common in women and can begin at any age, even in children. The more severely affected are middle age or older. When correctly diagnosed, RLS can often be treated successfully with a variety of medications. There is not, however, one specific drug that cures all RLS symptoms, so you may need to try several different medications to see which one will work for you. It is important to work with a physician who can determine how to best treat your RLS.
What Causes RLS?
Initially blood vessels and nerves were thought to be the culprit of such discomfort but this theory has since been rejected. Leading experts now believe that this condition is caused because the brain uses iron abnormally - and that genetics may play a role. RLS may be related to abnormalities in brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that help regulate leg movement, or to abnormalities in the part of the central nervous system that controls automatic movements.
Secondary RLS is often associated with a specific medical condition or the use of certain medications. Medications thought to cause Secondary RLS are psychotropic medications (anti-psychotics and certain anti-depressants), sedating anti-histamine cold and allergy medications, and anti-nausea drugs. Some antipsychotic drugs have been known to cause involuntary leg movement similar to RLS.
Medical conditions, such as iron deficiency, diabetes, kidney disease, and Parkinson’s, are associated with restless leg syndrome. Once these conditions are treated, the condition becomes more manageable. If untreated, not only will the RLS progress but these medical conditions can cause serious health problems.
Treatment will depend on the type of symptoms and how bad your symptoms are. Consult your physician if you have RLS symptoms.
Help for Restless Leg Syndrome and Alternative Home Remedies
Regular exercise and enough sleep may relieve mild symptoms. Also stretching, walking and regular exercise may help. Losing weight and avoiding smoking, alcohol, and caffeine may also reduce or control your symptoms.
Some “home remedies” that may be worth a try are:
- A teaspoon of Black Strap Molassas before bed – which is high in iron. If you think you are iron-deficient, speak to your physician before taking supplements in pill form.
- Foods rich in Magnesium like kidney beans, lentils, green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, and nuts
- Hot soaks in the tub before bed with Epsom salts
- Food rich in B vitamins like broccoli, spinach, beets, asparagus, and parsley
- Walking 20-30 minutes every day
- Get adequate rest
Of course, you should discuss any and all of these home remedies with your doctor and discuss any new exercise or diet with your physician. It is also very important that he or she knows about all the medications and conditions you have since there can be many unexpected interactions between medications that could make treatment more difficult.