Needing to rest and being unable to is particularly uncomfortable. Poor sleep is associated with numerous health issues, besides the discomfort a lack of high-quality rest causes. One reason some people can’t get an adequate amount of sleep is restless leg syndrome (RLS).
At PMC Foot and Ankle Clinic, Dr. Eric Blanson and his staff help patients who have restless leg syndrome, which is called Willis-Ekbom disease in medical terms, get the rest they so desperately need. We can also address the symptoms that make it nearly impossible for you not to move your legs.
Many patients find it difficult to describe the sensations they feel in their legs when they are tired and ready to rest. Some say that they feel a tingling or a twitching feeling. The bottom line is that when you have RLS, you feel that you must move your legs, even though doing so only provides temporary relief.
The cause of restless leg syndrome
Scientists and doctors don’t know why some people get restless leg syndrome. Genetics plays a role as most people who develop RLS before the age of 40 probably have close relatives with the condition.
There’s also some evidence that seems to suggest RLS is related to an imbalance in dopamine. Dopamine is a brain chemical that plays a role in controlling muscle movement.
We don’t have a diagnostic test or procedure for RLS. Instead, Dr. Blanson uses five criteria to make a diagnosis. Those criteria include:
- A feeling of tingling or crawling in your legs that makes you want to move them
- Worse symptoms when you’re lying down or resting
- A brief feeling of relief when you move your legs
- Worse symptoms in the evening and at night
- No other cause of your symptoms
Treatments for restless leg syndrome
We have several different strategies and options when it comes to treating restless leg syndrome. You may find relief through certain lifestyle changes, or medication could be the answer for you. Finding the right treatment approach may take some trial and error since you’re a unique individual.
Some people find that avoiding alcohol and tobacco use is helpful. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule, building an exercise routine, getting leg massages, and taking warm baths are other lifestyle changes that may be useful for you. If you have low iron levels, a supplement may help.
For some people, lifestyle changes aren’t enough. Prescription medications may be a better treatment approach or a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. Medications that increase the amount of dopamine in your brain or drugs that affect calcium channels may be helpful.
Medications that are sometimes prescribed for RLS that have significant drawbacks include opioids and benzodiazepines. Opioids may help with some symptoms, but they have a risk of addiction, and benzodiazepines may help you sleep but could also cause daytime drowsiness.
You may conclude that no treatment is the best approach for you. If the condition doesn’t interfere with your sleep and is primarily an annoying or occasional problem, you may not need to do anything, or at least not yet. RLS tends to worsen with age, so you may eventually need to consider treatment.
If you're experiencing discomfort that could be RLS, schedule an appointment with Dr. Blanson at PMC Foot and Ankle Clinic today.