Find your legs jerking uncomfortably in the evening or at night? Does it disturb your sleep? You aren't alone. Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), a disorder that causes a strong urge to keep moving your legs, affects thousands of people.
What is RLS?
"The constant urge to move is prompted by strange and unpleasant sensations in the legs. It could be a creepy-crawly feeling, pulling of muscles, itching, tingling or burning sensation, aches or even electric-like shocks. At times, these could also be felt in the arms. Since the syndrome strikes when you're resting and inactive, it worsens in the evening or at night. RLS may leave you tired and sleepy during the day, thereby affecting your daily activities," says Dr R Sekhar, Vascular and Endovascular Surgeon.
Internal medicine specialist Dr Sandeep Sonawane adds, "RLS is a neurological movement disorder of the limbs, often associated with a sleep complaint. Patients report an almost irresistible urge to move legs -- not painful, but distinctly bothersome. It can lead to significant physical and emotional disability and symptoms occur at least thrice a week."
Causes can be primary or secondary. Primary RLS has a genetic cause and is familial in 25 to 75% cases. Secondary RLS may be due to peripheral neuropathy, iron, folate, magnesium, or Vitamin B12 deficiency, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson's disease, kidney failure, diabetes, venous disorder, thyroid disorder or a neurological disorder. Antidepressants, painkillers, alcohol and caffeine can cause or exacerbate the symptoms.
"Many people with RLS may find it difficult to figure out the abnormal sensations in their legs. They occur every 10 to 60 seconds and make one restless," says Dr Sekhar.
Adds Dr Sonawane, "RLS mostly occurs in middle-aged or older people. Symptoms cause distress or impairment in social, occupational, educational and academic behaviour."
Tests to analyse Complete Iron Panel, Blood Urea Nitrogen, Fasting Blood Glucose, Magnesium, Vitamin B12 and Thyroid Stimulating Hormone help in diagnosis. Sometimes, muscle or nerve tests are also recommended.
Treatment is a mix of pharmacological and nonpharmacological approach. "Nonpharmacological treatment inclu-des sleep hygiene measures and avoids nicotine, caffeine and alcohol. Exercise is helpful as are hot/cold baths before bedtime. Pharmacological treatment includes medication," explains Dr Sonawane.
"An effective relief measure is compression stockings, which come in various sizes and shapes. Opt for one with a strong elastic that fits your leg easily. It makes your legs feel lighter and improves blood flow from the lower limbs to upper limbs. Also, try reducing or eliminating your consumption of coffee, tea, soft drinks and other caffeinated foods like chocolate. Stress can make RLS symptoms worse. Daily stretching and meditation can promote relaxation," says Dr Sekhar.