Do you lie down to sleep, only to have your legs decide it’s a great time to move around? There’s a name for it — restless legs syndrome (RLS), and it’s a sleep disorder. It causes a person to compulsively move their legs (or other parts of the body) and occurs along with other physical sensations, which may include itching, aching, burning, creeping, tugging, pulling, or crawling.
RLS usually pops up in the evening, so you have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or feeling refreshed in the morning. It also tends to be most severe when you’re lying in bed or sitting for prolonged periods.
At Heart Vascular & Leg Center in Bakersfield, California, our team of expert vascular, wound care, and podiatric physicians can offer your treatment for restless legs, greatly improving the quality of your sleep. Here’s what you should know.
Why do I have restless legs syndrome (RLS)?
Genetics plays a role in many cases of RLS. In fact, up to 92% of patients have a first-degree relative with RLS, and those patients generally develop symptoms at a younger age than those without the link.
A number of medical conditions are also associated with RLS, including:
- Anemia (low iron levels)
- Parkinson's disease
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Problems with kidney function/dialysis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
A number of other substances, such as antidepressant, allergy, and anti-nausea medications; caffeine; nicotine; and alcohol, can either contribute to the development of RLS or make existing symptoms worse.
Some studies show that many patients diagnosed with vein disease also develop RLS, and they can be treated with therapies usually employed for chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). This may be the case because vein disease inflames the muscles and other soft tissues in your legs, which then produce uncomfortable sensations. A study by the National Sleep Foundation found that 98% of patients who received treatment for their vein problems also experienced a decrease in RLS symptoms.
Are you sure it’s restless legs syndrome?
When you come into our office looking for a diagnosis, our team reviews your medical history and all your current symptoms, including your sleep habits. To follow up, your doctor may recommend going for a general physical examination, a neurological exam, blood tests for iron deficiency, or a sleep study to try to rule out underlying causes for your restless legs. They may also perform vascular testing to ensure you don’t have a circulatory system problem.
However, to confirm an RLS diagnosis, the International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group asserts you have to meet the following five criteria:
- Have a compulsive urge to move your legs (or other body parts), particularly when lying down; usually occurs with uncomfortable muscle sensations
- Symptoms start or get worse during periods of inactivity
- Symptoms partially or completely relieved by stretching the affected muscles
- Symptoms develop or get worse only in the evening or in bed
- Symptoms not due to underlying medical or behavioral problem
What are my treatment options for RLS?
There are a number of home remedies that can ease your symptoms. These include:
- Get regular exercise but avoid intense workouts within a few hours of bed
- Follow good sleep hygiene: don’t read, watch TV, or use your computer or phone while in bed, and aim for seven to nine hours of sleep
- Avoid or limit caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol
- Apply a heating pad or cold compress to your legs
- Look into acupressure, massage, and light stretching
- Soak in a warm tub
- Take magnesium supplements
- Reduce stress as much as possible
Your Heart Vascular & Leg Center physician will probably recommend treating any and all underlying causes. If your iron is low, supplementation is a good choice. If you have varicose veins, getting them treated may also have a positive effect on RLS symptoms.
Your doctor can also prescribe medications to reduce unpleasant sensations associated with RLS. Which medication he uses is tailored to each individual patient’s needs.
If you need sleep but your legs have decided to do a jig, you may have restless legs syndrome; Heart Vascular & Leg Center can help. Give us a call at 661-443-5524 to set up a consultation with one of our physicians, or book your appointment online.