Restless leg syndrome is an extremely common diagnosis, with some experts estimating that as many as 7-10% of people in the United States have it. It is more likely to affect females than males and can occur at any age. If you are interested in learning more about restless leg syndrome, you have come to the right place.

What is Restless Leg Syndrome?

Restless leg syndrome is a condition in which a patient feels an irresistible urge to move their legs. Typically, this syndrome worsens throughout the day, meaning that the urge to shake their legs gets worse towards the evenings. In fact, for many portions of the population who have been diagnosed with restless leg syndromes, it will be the worst during the night as they try to sleep. For these people, restless leg syndrome may be considered a sleep disorder.

What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?

Interestingly enough, researchers are unclear on what exactly causes restless leg syndrome. However, a theory that they have provided is that it is due to an imbalance in the chemical messengers of the brain, mainly dopamine. Further, there are certain physiological changes that have been suggested to cause and impact restless leg syndrome, such as diabetes, kidney disease, hypothyroidism, and depression. In addition to the potential causes of RLS, it has been suggested that stress and anxiety may increase the frequency and intensity of the restlessness that you will feel. 

How Is Restless Leg Syndrome Diagnosed?

If you think you may have restless leg syndrome, it is important to schedule an appointment with your provider. Your provider will take a history, and ask you questions such as how long this has been going on, and what symptoms you have. If you have a strong, irresistible urge to move your legs that tend to get worse when you are sitting still or laying down, this is a strong suggestion that you may have RLS. Your provider will also likely speak with you as to whether anything makes the restlessness better since many patients with RLS have their symptoms improve while walking or moving around. Should your symptoms be impacting you at night while sleeping, your provider may also refer you for a sleep study. Ultimately, however, restless leg syndrome will be diagnosed by the history of your symptoms, as opposed to a lab result or diagnostic exam. 

Can My Restless Leg Syndrome Be Treated?

In short, restless leg syndrome can absolutely be treated. However, treatment depends on how frequent, as well as how severe your symptoms are. For example, if your RLS only impacts you a few days a week and tends to coincide with certain stressful times, their recommendation will be different than if you exhibit symptoms every day and it impacts your sleep. Should you be having a more severe form of RLS, treatment will be multi-faceted. The first step your provider will take is to rule out reversible causes. For example, if your restless leg syndrome is being caused by low iron in your blood, they will prescribe you iron pills to address the underlying cause. On the contrary, if there is no reversible cause identified, treatment focuses on lifestyle changes. Should you need additional treatment, this is where medications will be of value. The medications will vary, and range from medications that increase the levels of dopamine in the brain to drugs affecting calcium channels. Should your RLS be impacting your sleep, sleep treatment will be focused on muscle relaxers and sleep medications. As you can tell, treatment for RLS can be extremely complex, and your provider will be able to walk you through it every step of the way. 

I Am Hesitant About Medications, What Lifestyle Changes Can I Make?

Great question! There are several treatment options that can help your RLS that do not require you to have to take medications. These involve both exercising and avoiding caffeine. These will allow your muscles to relax and not enter a state of over-excitement, which can trigger your RLS. Further, keeping yourself relaxed by participating in self-care such as baths, massages, and warm compresses can help relax your body. Finally, if RLS is impacting your sleep, it is important to use proper sleep hygiene. Proper sleep hygiene includes only going to your bed while sleepy, avoiding electronics before bed, and making sure that your bedroom is sufficiently dark. If you have other questions regarding lifestyle changes, your provider will be happy to assist you!

Will My Restless Leg Ever Get Better?

With proper treatment, you can generally control the symptoms of your restless leg syndrome. However, as it is a chronic condition, there is no saying that it will go completely into remission. With this in mind, it is important that you surround yourself with a strong support system, and seek mental therapy if you should have any feelings of excessive sadness or lack of interest in activities you previously enjoyed.

What Should I Do If I Think I Have Restless Leg Syndrome?

At Jacksonville Sleep Center, we are your experts on restless leg syndrome. Our “dream team,” which includes Dr. Nassar and Dr. Festic will be able to assist you every step of the way. Whether it is diagnosing and treating your symptoms, or simply answering your questions about restless leg syndrome, we are here to help! Please contact us to set up an appointment, via either phone call or email. We look forward to hearing from you soon!