If you’ve been diagnosed with Restless Leg Syndrome, you may have a long road ahead of you. It’s one of the more mysterious medical conditions out there, but Above & Beyond is eager to work with Manchester-area residents to understand it a little better and perhaps reduce its severity and frequency.
Research is continuing into what happens with Restless Leg Syndrome, since it’s sometimes as confusing to medical practitioners as it is for people suffering from it. There are plenty of possible causes and possible treatment options, since the experience seems to differ slightly by nearly everyone who has it.
Does it start in the leg muscles? Does it start in the leg nerves? Or is there something in the brain that sends out those strange itchy, tingly signals to the leg, knees or feet? Why does it occur more at night than in the morning? Why does the feeling sometimes stop for days, weeks or months, but then comes back even stronger?
But beyond those larger medical unknowns, a more critical question on the mind of many Manchester residents battling RLS is: “Am I going to be able to sleep better tonight?”
Get to know RLS
According to the Mayo Clinic, Restless Leg Syndrome can happen at just about any age. It can start by an unusual feeling in the legs or feet after someone has been sitting for an extended period of time or is preparing for bed.
Sufferers describe feelings of creeping, itching, pulling, aching or crawling, and people also mention kicking or jerking of their legs than can happen when they’re asleep.
Individual descriptions do vary, but everyone agrees that it’s not even close to standard muscle aches and pains or itches from allergies.
Sometimes, you can get rid of the feeling temporarily by stretching out the affected leg or getting up and walking around for a few minutes. But the relief sometimes can go away fast if the cycle starts again when the person tries to sleep.
People are less likely to report the same symptoms the next morning. If their sleep was interrupted or delayed, they also may feel more fatigued and less productive; a feeling that can continue or even grow over time the more that sleep is interrupted.
Going to bed early also may backfire if symptoms return.
Possible ways to reduce symptoms
Because research is continuing into RLS, there’s some experimentation or individual anecdotes involved. But people who suffer have shared some of these suggestions to decrease the frequency or intensity.
- Lifestyle changes. Substances that can affect your sleep patterns could impact Restless Leg Syndrome. So consider cutting out or reducing consumption of alcohol, caffeine or tobacco products.
- Increase iron. Conditions like anemia or other types of iron deficiencies or excessive bleeding may play a role. Your provider can examine you or prescribe more iron.
- A nice soak. Warming your legs prior to bedtime can help muscles and nerves relax. Consider a bath or a soak in a hot tub. Alternatively, some suggest applying cold treatment, such as an ice pack, to reduce possible inflammation.
- Massage. The whole body – and sometimes the mind – can benefit from massage. It soothes aching muscles and helps people relax. While it might be difficult to time these around bedtime, a pattern of regular massages can have good benefits.
- Exercise. Whether it’s a full workout or even light stretching like yoga or resistance training, the act of movement can produce endorphins in the brain and stimulate muscles.
Ideally it would be beneficial if a provider could prescribe one medication and everything would go away. Unfortunately, because RLS is so mysterious, there are a variety of possible pharmaceutical solutions but no universal type of medication or dosage size.
Some believe that the solution to RLS lies in the brain’s dopamine levels. Dopamine is a naturally-occurring hormone that affects and regulates pleasure. Medications that can affect these include pramipexole, rotigotine or topinirole. General side effects can include fatigue, nausea or dizziness, but there are also reports of behavioral changes like excessive gambling or shopping. Others report that their restless leg symptoms begin appearing earlier in the day, but not at bedtime.
Anti-seizure drugs that are used for neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease, such as gabapentin encarbil, also may show potential. However, users have reported dizziness, sleep problems and general fatigue.
Opioids are given in some cases to reduce pain and relax muscles. However these may come with side effects such as high rates of addiction along with a need for increased quantity as tolerance grows.
Finally, benzodiazepeines like lorazepam or clnazepamcan may help improve the sleep cycles. However, some users have reported feeling overly sleepy or having difficulty waking up in the morning. A deeper sleep could also trigger other problems such as sleep apnea.
Overall, your health care provider should be the one to officially diagnose RLS. He or she also might want to take a closer look to what else could be happening in your body or brain, such as a blood test or neurological exam. Providers in the Manchester area might also have other suggestions for exercises or activities to reduce it.
Health care professionals such as nurses may be able to observe what treatments have been taking place or are in place. To discuss other possible options for Restless Leg Syndrome, visit Above & Beyond.