Restless Legs Syndrome: Causes and Treatment

May 3, 2019
Restless legs syndrome is a condition that affects children and adults' lower limbs at rest. If you suspect you're suffering from it, you should go see a doctor.

Restless legs syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes discomfort in the lower limbs during resting times. This disorder is also called Willis-Ekbom disease (WED) and affects 3% of the population.

Restless legs syndrome causes intense discomfort and as a result, prevents proper rest. The most curious thing about it is that moving or walking can relieve the discomfort.

Causes and characteristics of restless legs syndrome

The urge to move one’s legs at rest is the main symptom of this disease. While it’s more common after the age of 40, it can manifest at any age and can affect both men and women.

Moreover, some people are more vulnerable to this condition – 20% of cases are caused by anemia, walking the last trimester of pregnancy, or certain drugs, among others.

A specific cause is an alteration in dopamine function. When this neurotransmitter doesn’t function as it should in the nervous system, it directly affects motor skills. It especially affects people with low iron levels, dopamine’s staple food.

Symptoms of restless legs syndrome

This leg discomfort usually manifests after a considerable resting period. It can occur after a car or plane trip or even after spending half an hour sitting in a movie theater.

Restless Legs Syndrome: Causes and Treatment

It manifests as a tingling sensation in the legs. The person then experiences an urgent need to move their legs. Stretching, walking, or even the simple act of shaking their limbs relieves the sensation.

The main characteristic of restless legs syndrome is that it worsens at night. For this reason, this condition is often associated with another called periodic limb movement disorder, which is characterized by nocturnal spasms.

How is restless legs syndrome diagnosed?

Based on the patient’s clinical history, the specialist will ask them routine questions associated with the typical symptoms of this syndrome. It’s a protocol established by the International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group.

If the symptoms coincide with the established protocol, the specialist will examine the patient. Then, they do a neurological evaluation and some blood tests to discover the patient’s iron and ferritin levels.

After that, a polysomnography (a type of sleep study) is done to determine sleep activity, along with a immobilization test. This way, the specialist determines the patient’s sleep quality.

Also, the doctor should rule out possible injuries to the peripheral nerves of the legs. This is analyzed by electromyography and nerve conduction studies.

Relevant aspects to analyze

By consulting your clinical history, the doctor can discover relevant information, such as family members who suffer from restless legs syndrome. Familial predisposition is a major risk factor for this syndrome.

Finally, to make a diagnosis, the doctor must know the patient’s responsiveness to dopaminergic drugs, which are used to treat the condition.

They should also assess whether the condition is stable or evolving.

Treatment of restless legs syndrome

Restless Legs Syndrome: Causes and Treatment

Proper treatment depends on the specific diagnosis. A person with iron deficiency who’s suffering from restless legs syndrome will probably only need oral or intravenous iron and ferritin supplements.

Broadly speaking, this syndrome can be treated both naturally and with drugs. In the latter case, certain drugs that increase dopamine levels are used to relieve symptoms.

Iron and calcium supplements help relieve discomfort. Muscle relaxants are also recommended for the treatment of this syndrome. However, you must keep in mind that these products are contraindicated in pregnancy.

As for natural and home remedies, you can resort to massages, daily exercise, and cold compresses. Exercises like yoga or pilates may also help relieve discomfort. In addition, you should avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.