Restless legs syndrome is a central nervous system disorder that causes nerves to react, usually at times of repose or rest, in ways that cause the legs to move. It is a sleep disorder as well, since it interferes with rest and slumber to a large extent, sometimes causes restless sleep or even insomnia.
The bad news is that no one really knows the cause of restless leg syndrome. Most experts believe that sufferers of RLS may have a chemical imbalance in their system, an imbalance that causes the brain to absorb or over - use minerals such as iron, literally sucking them into the blood stream where they cause abnormal nerve reactions.
RLS may also be genetic; about 50 percent of the RLS sufferers who have been documented also have family members who are afflicted with the same disorder.
Many other medical problems are associated with RLS, include diabetes, an end - stage kidney infection or disease, an iron deficiency, Parkinsons and even pregnancy. However, these connections are rarer than one might think, and they are in the minority of RLS patients. Sometimes the treatment of these diseases, or the end of the pregnancy, will bring about the end of the Restless Legs Syndrome, but sometimes not; there is unfortunately no hard and fast rule about the connection between RLS and other diseases.
It is estimated that perhaps 10 percent of the world population is afflicted with restless legs syndrome; perhaps half those sufferers have moderate to extreme symptoms that affect their ability to enjoy and live life. And its worth noting that women are traditionally higher in incidence than men, as well as people with severe diseases who happen to be middle - aged or elderly.
RLS, as noted, is genetic and can pass from family member to family member, but the usual pattern is that it will afflict the young more infrequently, and the spread of it is much slower, than older family members.
RLS is attended by prickly sensations in the legs (and sometimes other limbs) and an irresistible desire to move the legs to relieve the prickling. The prickles are variously described as pins and needles, itches or a crawling sensation along the legs. They are usually more severe at leisure, lying or sitting.
Most cases of RLS are mild, but a few sufferers find it intolerable; in addition, symptoms come and go with various degrees of severity. Usually symptoms are worse at night; the sleep disruption can greatly interfere with quality of life.
Since no one knows the cause of RLS, and no medical test exists to diagnose it accurately, it does seem a helpless predicament for many sufferers. However, there are several avenues of restless legs syndrome treatment that may be of help.
The best one can usually hope for is to relieve symptoms; no one has yet produced a cure. However, many RLS sufferers respond to a program of regular exercise, the establishment of regular and inflexible sleep habits, and eliminating caffeine, alcohol and tobacco from ones diet.
There is no drug for RLS, although leg massages and heat or cold applied to the legs (such as hot baths, ice packs or heating pads) have produced some relief in many patients. If a patient wakes up and goes to sleep at regular hours, and spends time in the sun every day, he may find relief from his symptoms. Time in the sunshine increases melatonin, a natural relaxant.
A last resort (because they are not always effectual) are medications such as dopaminergic drugs that increase dopamine in the brain; Pramipexole and Ropinirole are two medications approved for the treatment of RLS.
While there is no cure yet for restless legs syndrome, treatments can ease symptoms and improve sleep for the sufferer.