How To Treat Restless Legs Syndrome

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Do you find yourself tossing and turning at night because of pain or uncomfortable sensations in your legs?  Before blaming your mattress, consider the possibility that you are one of at least 12 million Americans suffering from a neurological disorder known as restless leg syndrome (RLS).  Many experts believe that the true number of RLS sufferers is greater, due to a suspicion that the condition is often undiagnosed or attributed incorrectly to a different condition.

  1. How can I recognize the symptoms of restless leg syndrome?  Patients with restless leg syndrome describe their leg sensations in different ways - burning, crawling, tugging or tightening, among others. If you are experiencing discomfort in your legs when at rest (classically in bed, although also when seated), and the only temporary relief from the sensations is movement, then you should schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor to receive a diagnosis.
  2. Why do I have restless leg syndrome? 
    • In many cases of restless leg syndrome, the condition does not appear to be provoked by any underlying cause.
    • There is evidence to suggest a hereditary predisposition to restless leg syndrome in many instances; patients with a family history of RLS tend to exhibit signs of the condition earlier in life than the average sufferer of restless leg syndrome.
    • As studies continue, doctors may ultimately solidify a connection between restless leg syndrome and other conditions like diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, iron deficiency, Parkinson's disease and kidney failure.  
    • Some substances are thought to provoke symptoms of restless leg syndrome.  In addition to alcohol, tobacco and caffeine, some medications can also lead patients to exhibit symptomatic leg discomfort.  Tell your doctor if you are taking medicine for nausea, seizure, or cold and allergy.
    • Lastly, there seems to be a form of restless leg syndrome that surfaces late in pregnancy and resolve shortly after delivery.
  3. How can I get treatment?
    • Diagnosis is the first step toward treatment.  Unfortunately, diagnosis of restless leg syndrome is quite complicated by the need for doctors to study not only personal medical history and the many descriptions of the patient's observable discomfort, but also family history.  If your doctor considers the presence of RLS distinctly possible, you will likely undergo some diagnostic blood work to eliminate other possible explanations for the leg discomfort.

      When you visit your doctor, be prepared to thoroughly describe your symptoms.  How would you characterize your discomfort?  At what time of the day, or during what activities, do you notice it?

    • If you are diagnosed with restless leg syndrome, your doctor may prescribe medication to combat the discomfort.  Parkinson's medications, sleep aids, muscle relaxants and prescription painkillers are commonly prescribed to treat patients with restless leg syndrome.  It's possible that your doctor recommends a combination of drugs.  However, some of these drugs carry the slight risk of dependency and addiction.
    • Prescription medication isn't the only means of combating RLS.
      • Over-the-counter pain medication can bring minor discomfort down to an unnoticeable level.
      • Some patients report that shifting their nightly period of sleep can lead to greater comfort.
      • Schedule massages and take nice, warm baths.  Both activities relax the muscles in your legs.
      • Speaking of relaxation, we could all benefit from better stress management, but it's also true that stress exacerbates the discomfort of restless leg syndrome.  Examine your level of stress and consider possible ways to reduce it.
      • Apply hot and cold packs where your legs hurt.
      • Quit coffee and all other caffeinated beverages.  This would be a good time to quit smoking as well, and reduce your intake of alcohol.

Restless leg syndrome tends to affect the middle-aged and elderly more often than children and young adults - and the severity of symptoms seems to grow over time.  But you don't have to be of a certain age in order to suffer from restless leg syndrome, and you don't have to silently tolerate its exhausting effect night after night.  With your doctor, devise a plan to bring relief to your legs.  Visit the provided link to join an RLS support group online.  


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