Restless legs syndrome is a term that has recently been in the media. Physicians and researchers complain that the term trivializes the disorder, which is also called Willis-Ekbom Syndrome. The disorder most commonly leads to sleep loss in both the sufferer and their partner, who may be awakened by the other’s movements.
What Is Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)?
According to Keith W. Roach, MD, associate professor of Clinical Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, “RLS is a sleep-related movement disorder characterized by the need to move the affected legs (akathisia) or even the feeling that they are moving on their own. This sensation can vary from tingling, twitching or crawling to painful aches and itching. Episodes usually occur around the time people are getting ready for bed or trying to fall asleep, but they can also happen during the day while a person is sitting or at rest.”
Risk Factors for Restless Legs Syndrome
RLS affects 5 to 15% of the population. People who suffer from the disorder are more likely to:
- Be female
- Be older. RLS is more common with increasing age.
- Be of Northern European descent
- Have relatives with the disease if they experience it early in life.
- Be in the last 3 months of pregnancy.
- Have peripheral neuropathy. Damage to the nerves in your hands and feet, sometimes due to chronic diseases such as diabetes and alcoholism, may also cause the symptoms of restless legs syndrome.
- Be iron-deficient. Iron deficiency among seniors is frequently caused by colon cancer.
- Be experiencing kidney failure. Kidney failure frequently causes iron deficiency, which may result in RLS.
- Have Parkinson’s Disease
- Have rheumatoid arthritis
- Have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ADHD (although the link hasn’t been proven yet)
The older you are, the more likely you are to develop restless legs syndrome. However, if symptoms begin after age 45, the onset of symptoms may be abrupt, but they’re unlikely to worsen.
Those whose symptoms begin before the age of 45 usually have relatives with the same symptoms. Symptoms slowly get worse and occur more frequently as you get older.
Triggers that can worsen symptoms include caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, antidepressants, antipsychotics, some antihistamines, dopamine blockers for nausea, and sleep aids.
Do I Have Restless Legs Syndrome?
The 4 criteria required for a doctor to diagnose RLS are:
- An irresistible urge to move your legs, frequently accompanied by a creepy-crawly, itchy or pulling feeling
- Symptoms improve when you move your legs
- Symptoms begin or worsen when you rest
- Symptoms worsen in the evening, especially when lying down
It’s especially important that you see a doctor, because RLS is a symptom of numerous underlying diseases. If you neglect to see a doctor, they may not be able to identify the underlying, and potentially mortal, disease.
Treatment of Restless Legs Syndrome
If your doctor finds no underlying medical condition, you may be able to prevent or improve symptoms by:
- Increasing your iron intake, preferably through iron-rich foods, such as spirulina, liver, grass-fed beef, lentils, dark chocolate, and spinach
- Reducing stress or anxiety
- Improving physical health
- Practicing sleep hygiene
- Drinking chamomile tea before bed
- Taking a warm or cold bath or shower before bed, depending on which relieves symptoms
- Hot water bottle or ice pack, depending on which relieves symptoms better
- Low-impact exercise, such as a stationary bicycle or swimming, early in the day
Your doctor may also prescribe medication, such as pramipexole or ropinirole, although Dr. Roach advocates trying nonprescription methods first, especially for seniors who are already taking prescription medication.
Your Health Matters
At Sugar Hill Retirement Community, your health—and happiness—matter. They’re the reason behind everything we do.
It’s why we write and publish information on everything from nutritious foods to senior trends to healthy exercises in our blog. It’s why our chef manager, Elena Rossler, and her crew of professionals strive to create delicious and nutritious meals. It’s why our Life Enrichment Coordinator, Robert Smith, develops new programs, such as a bocce team and a veterans group. It’s the reason we exist.
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