Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a disorder involving uncomfortable feelings, such as tingling, in the legs while a person is relaxing before sleep. These feelings are relieved if the sufferer gets up and walks around. This makes it difficult for the person to fall and stay asleep. In addition, 80% of people with RLS also have Periodic limb-movement disorder (PLMD). These are rhythmic movements of the legs or arms occurring during sleep which are disruptive.
The limb movements most often occur at the beginning of the night and usually fade out as the night progresses. These movements can be disruptive to the quality of sleep a patient gets by interfering with normal sleep architecture. The movements prevent a patient from obtaining deeper stages of sleep and keep a patient in the lighter stages. By keeping a patient in the lightest stages of sleep, these limb movements can often cause a patient to complain of insomnia. In addition, the movements often disrupt a bed partner’s sleep. Many people develop RLS as they age. It is not a fatal or dangerous condition.
What causes RLS? It is known to be an issue involving the central nervous system. Its exact cause is unknown, but there are several contributing factors. Some women have experienced RLS during pregnancy. This usually resolves itself after the baby is born. Studies have also shown a link between iron and RLS. Maintaining levels of ferritin (the protein that stores iron and releases it) greater than 50 mcg/L has been shown to reduce the severity of RLS symptoms. Anti-depressants can make RLS symptoms worse. The treatment of RLS varies depending on the cause, if it can be determined.
There is no cure. In the case of iron deficiency, increasing the amount of iron can relieve symptoms. Massages, warm baths, or stretching may help. Medication is also available. Mirapex and Requip are two medications commonly prescribed for RLS. If limb movements severely disrupt sleep, a stronger anti-Parkinson’s medication may be prescribed.