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Restless Legs Syndrome

What is restless legs syndrome?

Approximately 10 percent of adults suffer from restless legs syndrome (RLS), which is sometimes called Willis-Ekbom disease. The condition is characterized by strange sensations in your legs and the urge to move them when you’re sitting or lying down. The symptoms tend to worsen at night, making it difficult for those who have RLS to fall asleep, stay asleep and get a restful night’s sleep.

What are the symptoms of restless legs syndrome?

The unpleasant sensations that characterize RLS can be different for everyone. But here are some of the common symptoms:

  • Sensations in your legs that you would describe as creeping, crawling, tugging, pulling, itching, tingling or aching
  • Desire to get up and move around -- which often helps alleviate those sensations
  • Worsening of symptoms in the evening and at night
  • Disrupted sleep -- and disrupting your partner’s sleep due to your frequent movements

What causes restless legs syndrome?

There is no known cause for RLS, but research has pointed to heredity playing a role. Also, it may be related to an imbalance of the brain chemical dopamine, which helps control muscle movement. Other possible causes include:

  • Not getting enough iron (iron deficiency)
  • Age (the condition can occur at any age, but symptoms often worsen with age)
  • Being female (women are more likely to have RLS than men)
  • Neuropathy (nerve damage)
  • Taking certain medications, such as antihistamines (like Benadryl) and most antidepressants

How is restless legs syndrome treated?

There is no cure for RLS, but the sleep experts at Henry Ford can help patients alleviate their symptoms and start getting restful sleep again. If the condition appears to be related to another underlying medical condition, treatment will focus on remedying that condition (such as iron supplementation if you are iron deficient). Otherwise, your doctor may suggest:

Lifestyle changes

  • Avoiding substances that can make RLS worse, such as caffeine, alcohol and tobacco
  • Maintaining a regular sleep pattern
  • Massaging your legs
  • Getting moderate exercise
  • Relaxation techniques

Medical treatments

  • New medical devices have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of RLS. They include a foot wrap that puts pressure on the bottom of the foot and a vibrating pad for backs of the legs.
  • Prescription medications, including anti-seizure drugs and dopamine-regulating medications, can effectively treat moderate-to-severe RLS.

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