12 Things to Know About Restless Legs Syndrome

In my sleep practice, I see patients with RLS on a daily basis. In many instances, they have suffered with the disease for years before getting proper treatment. Unfortunately, it is frequently overlooked or misdiagnosed as some other disorder. RLS is characterized by an irresistible urge to move the legs, usually in response to an uncomfortable sensation, and is temporarily relieved by this movement. It is more frequent in the evening and is a major cause of sleep disruption. If untreated, it can result in significant physical and emotional consequences. Because I firmly believe that an educated patient is the best patient, I will give you my list of twelve things you should know about Restless Legs Syndrome.

  1. Common: One in ten Americans suffers from RLS and one in five recall having it as a child. It is twice as common in women and increases with age.
  2. Growing pains: If you are a parent, be suspicious of those “growing pains.” If frequent and relieved by movement, your child probably has RLS.
  3. Nighttime neuropathies: If your neuropathy occurs mainly around bedtime, you may actually have RLS. Unlike RLS, neuropathies have no circadian rhythmicity. 25% of patients with diabetic neuropathy have RLS that is undiagnosed.
  4. Heredity: 40% of people with RLS have a first-degree relative with the condition.
  5. Iron levels: Low iron levels are a major cause of RLS and correcting it can result in cure. A simple blood test called a ferritin level can reveal this cause.
  6. Pregnancy: RLS is very common during pregnancy, affecting about 20% of women. Iron supplementation, stretching, and support hose can be beneficial. The good news is that in most women it resolves after delivery.
  7. Antidepressants and antipsychotics: Unfortunately, the majority of these medications can cause or worsen RLS. The lone exception being bupropion, an antidepressant that has actually been used to treat RLS.
  8. Varicose veins: RLS can be associated with varicosities. In several recent studies, treating the varicosities with sclerotherapy or laser resulted in significant clinical improvement.
  9. Multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia: RLS is very common in these two disorders. Unfortunately, it is frequently ignored and mislabeled as a manifestation of the disorders.
  10. Augmentation: If you are on medication for RLS and find that the symptoms are coming on earlier or spreading to other parts of the body, this is referred to as augmentation. It usually requires a change in therapy.
  11. Renal disease: Approximately 30% of patients with advanced renal disease have RLS.
  12. Treatment: There are numerous safe and effective treatments now available. If you or a loved one has symptoms suggestive of RLS, bring it to the attention of your health care provider. There really is no reason to suffer with this disorder anymore.

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