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.

Symptoms



    • 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.

Diagnosis


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.

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:

    1. Do you have an uncontrollable urge to move your legs – usually because you’re experiencing uncomfortable and unpleasant sensations in those limbs?

    1. Do these unpleasant sensations get worse when you rest, sit, lie or are inactive?

    1. Does walking, stretching or movement help to relieve these unpleasant sensations – even if the relief lasts only while you’re moving your legs?

    1. Are the symptoms usually worse at night?



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