Published March 12, 2012
After a long period of sitting or lying down, you may feel like your legs are pulling, searing, bubbling or crawling, but then you look down to find that nothing is there. If this happens to you, you’re not losing your mind. You may be suffering from restless leg syndrome (RLS) — a mysterious disorder marked by uncomfortable sensations in the leg and an impulse to move to alleviate the discomfort. If you think your legs are feeling antsy, here is a guide to understanding RLS:
RLS is a neurological condition that causes your legs to feel a number of uncomfortable sensations, such as itching and cramping. The discomfort causes an impulsive desire to start moving your legs, which will usually subdue the symptoms. RLS affects more women than men. It is also most likely found among middle-aged adults and older, usually becoming more severe over time. People with RLS experience symptoms on a spectrum, which means some are more acutely affected than others. The effects of RLS range from minor annoyance to debilitating insomnia.
The symptoms of RLS are often difficult to describe, which prevents many people with the disorder from seeking appropriate medical care. The effects of RLS can be felt in the thighs, calves, feet and occasionally the arms, and they are usually brought on by extended periods of lying or sitting down. These symptoms are frequently described as crawling, tingling, creeping, tension, tugging, gnawing, aching or burning in the legs. Following these sensations, an afflicted person will feel a strong desire to move or walk about. Symptoms typically worsen at night, causing insomnia or nighttime leg twitching.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the cause of RLS is so far unknown. Because of this mystery, there are no available lab tests to definitively diagnose RLS. The most recent research points to dopamine imbalance in the brain and iron deficiency as the primary causes of the disorder. There is a genetic aspect to RLS — half of afflicted patients report that RLS runs in the family. In addition, RLS can be an incidental effect of other conditions, including peripheral neuropathy and kidney failure.
Prevention and treatment
There is currently no way to prevent RLS, but there are ways to mitigate the symptoms. When RLS accompanies another disorder like iron deficiency, treating the underlying condition could greatly relieve discomfort. If there is no associated condition, doctors may prescribe medication to alleviate the symptoms. These prescriptions can include medications for Parkinson’s disease, muscle relaxants or certain epilepsy medications to lower the amount of motion in your legs. In cases where RLS causes insomnia, a physician may also prescribe sleep or narcotic medications.