Have you been unable to sleep at night because of a strange sensation in your legs that can be temporarily relieved with movement? You might be one in millions of Americans that suffer from Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS).
Dr. Elizabeth Bouldin, of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Ochsner Clinic Foundation, explained on The Saturday Early Show that while there is no cure for the sensations, there are steps sufferers can take to relieve symptoms.
Dr. Bouldin says RLS can only be described in general terms. Some suffering from RLS describe the sensation as itching, crawling or pain. The annoying sensation prevents people from getting sleep. It's also commonly associated with periodic limb movement disorder — movement of the legs during sleep, which can cause "bad sleep" after patients finally get sleep.
There is not any specific cause of RLS. Dr. Bouldin says there is a genetically transmitted variant, so it can run in families. RLS can also be seen in people who have anemia, B12 deficiency, iron deficiency or thyroid disease. Many women find that it gets worse after they get pregnant.
Because general medical disease, such as anemia and thyroid disease, increases with age, it probably increases with age.
Dr. Bouldin explains the sensations in the legs might be linked to a brain-spinal cord issue. For a lot of patients, there is definitely a regular time of day when it strikes. It's very common to have onset just when people get ready to go to bed.
Exercise or movement relieves the symptoms, so people with RLS tend to walk at night or get on the treadmill because as soon as they start moving, the symptoms go away.
Dr. Bouldin says she has rarely seen RLS "burn itself out." It is sometimes associated with other types of nerve disease. In cases where the related condition improves, RLS will sometimes improve.
There are medicines that can be used to make RLS more manageable. Dr. Bouldin says medications that were initially used for Parkinson's disease can be useful in treating RLS. The drugs are not approved for treating RLS, but are used off-label. New studies are testing if these medicines can be used for restless leg by mimicking the action of dopamine. There are minimal side effects to using the drugs. Sedating medications and pain relievers can also provide relief.
For those suffering from RLS, keep note that caffeine, nicotine and alcohol seem to make the restless leg sensation worse in many people. Cutting back or quitting may help. Some medications can make RLS worse too. Certain anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, even antihistamines can worsen RLS in some patients.