Also called Willis-Ekbom disease, restless legs syndrome (RLS) can vary from mild to severe and those worst affected can find the condition extremely distressing. In serious cases, it has the potential to disrupt people’s everyday activities. As many as one in 10 people have this syndrome at some point in their lives and it’s more common in women than men. It’s also more prevalent in middle age, although it can strike at any age.
The problem affects the nervous system and gives sufferers an overwhelming urge to move their legs (and in some cases their arms). It can cause an involuntary motion or jerking of these limbs. It’s also associated with a creeping or crawling sensation in the thighs, calves and feet, and it tends to be worse at night. While some people only have the symptoms occasionally, others experience them every day.
What causes restless leg syndrome?
Frustratingly for sufferers, there is usually no clear cause of this syndrome, although some experts believe that it may be connected to how the body responds to the chemical dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter involved in muscle movements.
In some cases, the syndrome can be triggered by underlying health issues, like kidney failure, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, an underactive thyroid or iron deficiency anaemia. It is also sometimes connected to pregnancy. In fact, around a fifth of women experience the condition during their final trimester. Cases like these that are associated with other medical conditions are called secondary restless legs syndrome.
There are also some specific triggers that can make symptoms worse, including stress, obesity, excessive nicotine, caffeine or alcohol consumption and a lack of exercise. Medications like antipsychotics, lithium, certain antihistamines and calcium channel blockers can also aggravate the problem.
What are the symptoms of restless leg syndrome?
Symptoms of the syndrome include feeling an uncomfortable sensation in your legs and experiencing an irresistible urge to move them. You may feel a burning, tingling, throbbing or itching sensation in your legs, or in your face, arms and chest. Some people report feeling like they have a fizzy liquid moving in the blood vessels in their limbs. The condition can also trigger a cramping sensation in your calves, and it can lead to involuntary movements of your legs either while you’re awake or asleep.
For some people, these feelings are mild, while for others they are extremely painful and distressing. Usually, the symptoms are worse in the evening and overnight, meaning they often impact on sleep.
What restless leg syndrome treatments are available?
Mild cases of this health condition may simply require a few changes to lifestyle, such as improving sleeping habits and avoiding caffeine or alcohol in the evening. Quitting smoking can also help, and getting more exercise during the day may alleviate the symptoms.
However, more severe cases might require targeted medical treatment. For example, if your symptoms are causing you considerable distress, you may need medication to help regulate your levels of iron and dopamine. Your doctor might also prescribe opiate-based painkillers like tramadol or codeine, and if you’re condition is preventing you from getting sufficient sleep, they might prescribe sleeping tablets. However, these medicines can cause side effects and make you feel drowsy during the day, so they are usually only recommended for short-term use.
It’s also important to note that there are things you can do during an episode of restless legs syndrome to relieve your discomfort. For example, massaging or rubbing your legs, using a hot or cold compress on your muscles or taking a warm bath might help. Activities that relax or distract you could also be beneficial. Some people find that walking or stretching reduces their symptoms, while exercises like tai chi and yoga are also known to work.
When should I see a doctor?
Many cases of restless legs syndrome will disappear if the underlying cause is addressed. Trying techniques like improving your sleeping routine, eating a healthier diet and getting more exercise might be enough to stop this syndrome. However, if you can’t tackle restless leg syndrome using these self-help techniques, it’s important to see a doctor. They may identify a health condition that is causing your restless legs syndrome or making it worse.
Although this syndrome isn’t a risk to your life, severe cases can have a major impact on your day-to-day experiences. For example, they can lead to insomnia, depression and anxiety. This means it’s essential that you take steps to tackle the problem.
How can Adjustamatic beds and riser recliner chairs help?
At Adjustamatic, we offer a range of adjustable beds and riser recliner chairs that can help to alleviate the symptoms of restless leg syndrome. Our products can be fitted with our unique, medically proven NHC Cyclo-Therapy system, which uses a soothing three-way technique that pulsates and rotates in a whirlpool motion. This massage therapy helps to reduce pain and improve circulation. In addition, by relaxing your body and mind, it can help soothe you into peaceful sleep.