Restless leg syndrome is a neurological disorder that is characterized by throbbing, pulling, creeping or other unpleasant sensations in the legs. The feeling is uncontrollable, and there is often an overwhelming urge to move the legs. Symptoms appear most commonly at night when a person is relaxing or resting, and they may increase in severity during the night. Moving the legs helps to relieve discomfort, which can range in severity from irritating to painful.
It is estimated that 10% of the population suffers from restless leg syndrome. Childhood restless leg syndrome is estimated to affect almost 1 million school-aged children, with one-third experiencing moderate to severe symptoms.
What Causes It?
In most cases, the cause of restless leg syndrome is unknown, but it is believed to have a genetic component. Some evidence suggests that low levels of iron in the brain may also be responsible for the disorder. In many cases, it seems to be related to the following factors or conditions:
- Chronic diseases such as kidney failure and diabetes
- Certain medications that may aggravate symptoms, including anti-nausea drugs, anti-psychotic drugs, antidepressants that increase serotonin, and some cold and allergy medications that contain sedating antihistamines
- Pregnancy, specifically in the last trimester
- Alcohol use
- Sleep deprivation
How Is It Diagnosed?
There is no specific test for restless leg syndrome, but rather criteria that indicate the disorder, including:
- Symptoms that are worse at night and are absent or negligible in the morning
- A strong and often overwhelming need or urge to move the affected limbs
- Sensory symptoms that are triggered by rest, relaxation or sleep
- Sensory symptoms that are relieved with movement, and the relief persists as long as the movement continues
Diagnosing restless leg syndrome in a child can prove to be difficult, as it’s often hard for them to describe where the pain is, how often the symptoms occur and how long the symptoms last. Restless leg syndrome in children may be misdiagnosed as “growing pains.”
How Is It Treated?
Restless leg syndrome can be treated using medications, but certain lifestyle changes can also help to reduce and relieve symptoms in those suffering from it. While researchers don’t know the exact cause, they do know that there is a connection between one’s lifestyle and how frequently their symptoms occur. If you’re living with restless leg syndrome, consider these lifestyle changes:
1. Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet can keep your body running smoothly and promote a good night’s sleep. Alcohol and caffeine are believed to trigger restless leg syndrome, so be sure to limit your intake, especially before bed.
2. No Smoking
Not only is smoking an addiction that destroys your lungs, it can make the body feel jittery and have a negative impact on sleep. If you struggle with restless leg syndrome, cut down on smoking or quit completely.
3. Be Aware of Medications
Medications that are being taken for other conditions may have side effects that make it difficult for your muscles to relax. Make sure to review any medications thoroughly with your doctor to find out if they are contributing to your disorder.
According to the Willis-Ekbom Disease Foundation, those suffering with restless leg syndrome who exercised for 30-60 minutes a day reported less fatigue, less symptoms and better sleep habits. You don’t need to run miles upon miles or overexert yourself, but get into the routine of exercising each day, whether it’s walking, jogging, yoga or any other variety of fitness to help manage your symptoms.
5. Reduce Stress
Stress can play a role in aggravating restless leg syndrome, so try to find a way to reduce your stress level. Organization and prioritizing may help, along with relaxation techniques such as breathing and meditation.