Restless Leg Syndrome (Willis-Ekbom Disease)
A Personal Account: Part 1
Feeling like something is creeping up your thighs at night is quite annoying. It is extremely uncomfortable and causes you to keep changing position whilst the legs do a merry, jerking dance all of their own.
The restless legs, and sometimes leg movement, usually starts as I get into bed, just before falling asleep and once I actually get to sleep, it only gets worse. Moving my legs to and fro around the bed makes sleeping almost impossible. When the leg sensation is unbearably intense it can result in getting no sleep at all.
What is Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder, or a disease of the central nervous system. It is a fairly common condition with estimates that around 10% of the population in America have RLS.
This sleep disorder results in exhaustion, daytime fatigue, daytime sleepiness and sleep deprivation. Although RLS occurs in men, women and children women are more likely to suffer from this condition.
Signs and Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome
A Personal Account: Part 2
It all began after I gave birth to my first son. What I hadn’t fully realized was that the symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome had already started to develop in the last few months of my pregnancy.
In fact, Restless leg syndrome can develop in pregnancy. If you are a pregnant woman, it is estimated that 16% of women will suffer from rls symptoms
Although I was advised that usually, around a month after delivery the symptoms would stop, this was not the case.
Caring for a newborn means that most people don’t get enough sleep anyway, and I was no different. The overwhelming general fatigue, worsened the symptoms and was a huge contributing factor for me dismissing the tingling in my lower legs.
Restless leg syndrome and Stress
Events then took a turn for the worse. I lost one of my parents and my husband lost his job. My son had a string of illnesses and the stress was immense. Bills started piling up and arguments in our house became commonplace. Finally, my husband and I separated leaving me as a single mum with no job. It was around this time that the Restless Leg Syndrome got much worse. Where it had started in my calves, the sensations were much stronger and now creeping up to my thighs.
A good night’s sleep became a thing of the past as I could not get rid of that irresistible urge to keep moving my legs. Sleep deprivation affected my mood, made me angry all the time and I could not think straight. Sleeping pills worked at first but, in time, the condition worsened. It reached a point where I could not concentrate on simple tasks and the constant fatigue made it hard to take care of the baby. I knew I had to pull myself together. This made me seek medical advice from a neurologist and luckily, my condition was not due to any underlying medical problem.
Causes of Restless Leg Syndrome
The cause for Restless Legs Syndrome is still largely unknown and it can often be a life long condition.
- Underlying Conditions: There are many diseases and conditions that may play a significant role in RSL. These include Parkinson’s Disease, diabetes, kidney disease, iron deficiency (anaemia) and peripheral neuropathy.
- Medications: It is thought that some medications may contribute to RLS. These include antihistamines, antidepressants and anti-nausea medication.
- Pregnancy: Many women develop RLS in the later stages of pregnancy, although usually the symptoms disappear after delivery.
- Sleep Deprivation: Not getting adequate quantity or quality of sleep.
- Substance Abuse: Drugs and alcohol do not help symptoms
- Stimulants: Too much caffeine or nicotine may also be contributing factors.
- Hereditary: It is thought that there may be a genetic link to RLS.
- Nutritional Problems such as magnesium deficiency, folic acid deficiency and Vitamin D deficiency are also thought to cause RLS.
A Personal Account: Part 3
I then added exercise to my regime in the form of a regular run. What’s more, I got great advice on how to improve my diet. I found out that what I ate, especially before going to bed, was making my condition worse. With the help of a dietitian, I eliminated my sugar filled diet and learnt more about what my body needs.
Treatment for Restless Leg Syndrome
For advice on how to sleep better, take a look at our Top Tips to a healthy night’s sleep. These include advice on what not to eat and drink, exercise, bedroom tranquillity and much more.
Specifically for Restless Legs you could try:-
- Have your legs massaged, or rub them yourself.
- Before going to bed indulge in a long, hot bubble bath
- Make sure that your bedroom is calm, cool and conducive to a good night sleep.
- Sometimes the use of a hot or cold compress to the problem areas can help
- Relaxation activities such as meditation or yoga.
- Walking and gentle stretching.
- Medications: If your symptoms are particularly severe or causing ongoing sleep disturbance then medications may be prescribed. The first line treatment drug is a dopamine agonist
Questions and Answers
I have been diagnosed with periodic limb movement disorder. Is this the same as restless leg syndrome?
I have been told that some anti-nausea medication can worsen restless leg syndrome, is this true?
Yes, it is known that some medications can worsen the symptoms of restless leg syndrome. These include:-
- Anti-nausea medication especially the dopamine antagonists can worsen the symptoms of restless leg syndrome
- Antihistamines used in the treatment of allergies and some anti-depressant drugs can also exacerbate the symptoms of restless leg syndrome.
Is there a connection between rheumatoid arthirits and RLS?
It is now known that iron deficiency is a common factor in both RLS and rheumatoid arthritis. Furthermore, in the US almost one third of people diagnosed with RLS also have rheumatoid arthritis.
It is worth seeing a healthcare provider to get any early symptoms of RLS checked out and to eliminate iron deficiency.
I have a varicose vein and RLS. Are the 2 conditions related?
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