One of the more interesting and somewhat unusual behaviors that can affect residents of Mount Vernon and elsewhere is Restless Legs Syndrome. It affects about 10 percent of the U.S. population, including some receiving hospice care, and ranges from occasional twitches to full motion throughout the day.
It’s also a condition that the team at Above and Beyond Home Health Care has experience with. Some of our clients have it or have had Restless Legs Syndrome and we also are happy to educate people who may have recently been diagnosed with it. In some cases, it may be accompanied by other health conditions, or sometimes it may indicate a higher risk of other conditions in the future. It also can be scary and confusing when someone is diagnosed.
According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine, science has been officially tracking Restless Legs Syndrome as its own behavior since the mid-1990s. Prior to this, it may have been observed but thought of more as a symptom of various types of health conditions.
Since then, research has continued into how Restless Legs Syndrome behaves and different methods or medications that may be able to reduce its strength and duration. As with any health topic, some knowledge has changed as more cases are observed or as medical professionals learn more about possible interactions with Restless Legs Syndrome and other conditions.
For those less familiar with RLS, the condition may only cause a little twitch or uncomfortable sensations, or it might cause a full compulsion to get up and walk around. It’s more active in the late afternoon and evening, and especially severe at night. Interestingly, people with RSL can be active all day, but when they enter a period of rest and try to relax, the symptoms often begin to show up.
People who have it say that the sensations vary, from pins and needles to sharper pains to minor itching to occasional throbbing. It can be on side of the body or both sides.
How often this happens can vary depending on the individual – severe cases may experience leg activity at least twice a week.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke said RLS is technically a sleep disorder since activity in the legs and compulsion to move or even get up it affects sleeping patterns and can lead to health problems associated with poor sleep such as fatigue.
RLS affects men and women of all ages, although women do have it more. More cases are also seen in those who are middle-aged or older.
There are a variety of treatment methods available, including some medications that slow the nervous system and relax the muscles, such as pain relievers, anticonvulsants, and medication that increase dopamine. Though some of these may address the RLS, they may have other side effects.
In some cases, medical providers may suggest changes to exercise programs, such as more stretching, plus changes in lifestyle before bed to hopefully relax the legs. This can include a hot bath, leg massages, ice packs, or heating pads.
In some cases, RLS symptoms may be triggered by stress, so anything that helps relax the mind and body regularly can be considered useful.
Researchers into RLS also look at possible connections to other health conditions, either because of the RLS or using the syndrome as a possible indicator of future health problems.
For instance, a lack of regular sleep or an increase in sleep apnea can sometimes lead to a lack of alertness, fatigue, and greater susceptibility to disease and inflammation.
There also might be some genetic risk factors that show that an increase in RLS in people with iron deficiency and kidney disease. Though there are no direct connections, the behaviors of the legs as they move spontaneously does have overlap to symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
A possible connection also may be seen in people in poor health or receiving hospice care, such as with neuropathy or end-stage renal disease.
Similar research reported by the National Institutes of Health shows there might be links to increased RLS in people with cardiovascular disease, arterial hypertension but this data is unclear. One theory is that if underlying conditions could be addressed, it would reduce RLS.
An argument for genetic links to RLS has been shown in people who are diagnosed with it before the age of 40.
If RLS is looked at as a neurological disease rather than a sleep disorder, it may be triggered by changes in brain chemistry especially low iron.
Other health or lifestyle areas that might increase the likelihood of RSL include regular use of alcohol and smoking; neuropathy; and certain medications.
Pregnant women have also reported symptoms of RLS, which may be due to other health and hormonal changes taking place. These often disappear about a month after delivery.
If you are experiencing more spontaneous activity in your legs or arms, check with your health provider. He or she can look at any other symptoms and discuss possible treatment options.