Restless leg syndrome
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a major cause of sleeping problems, yet many people, doctors included, aren’t even aware the condition exists, or that it can be treated fairly easily.
- Inability to keep your legs still
- Your legs kick and itch uncontrollably.
- Strange sensations and the urge to move are worse at night and when resting.
- Just thinking about having to sit still for a long time (e.g. watching a movie) makes you feel anxious.
The majority of RLS sufferers are incorrectly diagnosed as suffering from sleep disorders (although people with RLS do sleep worse than people with other sleep disorders); anxiety; depression; poor circulation; arthritis; attention deficit disorder (if the patient is young and can’t keep his legs still); or plain old hypochondria.
Medical researchers have now discovered that RLS is a metabolic brain disease and that effective treatment is available. People with RLS – one in 10 people – have a shortage of iron in specific areas of the brain which deal with movement. Even if a standard blood test shows normal blood-iron levels, it doesn’t mean iron levels in the brain are normal.
Low iron levels in the brain lead to a shortage of dopamine, which in turn causes those weird sensations in the legs and the uncontrollable urge to move them. Research has also shown the following: more women than men have RLS (particularly during pregnancy); there is a strong genetic factor; it is worse during periods of inactivity; and chances are slim that the condition will improve without treatment.
- If RLS only affects your sleep patterns occasionally, simple lifestyle changes – such as drinking fewer caffeine-rich beverages like coffee or Red Bull, or cutting down on alcohol – can help.
- Sometimes massage, putting your legs in cold or warm water, or less/more exercise helps the sensations.
- The right iron, folic acid or magnesium supplements can improve your general health if you have a shortage of these minerals.
- If you experience RLS once or twice a week and it regularly deprives you of sleep, a pill that helps restore dopamine levels in the brain could make a big difference.
- First prize would be to restore the brain’s iron levels, but in people with normal blood-iron levels, no iron in any tablet, taken orally, can move from the blood to the brain.
- Fix dopamine function by means of a drug that mimics the effect of dopamine. A tiny dose is enough to make a big difference.
Do you have RLS?
Answering yes to all of these questions is a clear indication that you have RLS:
- Do you have an uncontrollable urge to move your legs – usually because you’re experiencing uncomfortable and unpleasant sensations in those limbs?
- Do these unpleasant sensations get worse when you rest, sit, lie or are inactive?
- Does walking, stretching or movement help to relieve these unpleasant sensations – even if the relief lasts only while you’re moving your legs?
- Are the symptoms usually worse at night?
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