Restless Leg Syndrome is a neurological disorder with no known cause that plagues more than 10 percent of the population. It causes an irresistible urge for you to move your legs due to an uncomfortable, creeping, crawling feeling in your legs. It typically strikes at night when you are winding down, trying to fall asleep. Anyone who suffers from this condition can surely attest to the extreme frustration of not being able to relax. There is no cure for Restless Leg Syndrome, but there are home remedies and lifestyle changes that can help relieve the symptoms. I will tell you what has worked for me so maybe we can all rest a little easier tonight.
There are not any tests or labs that doctors can run to determine whether or not you have Restless Leg Syndrome. Diagnosis is made primarily from the symptoms that the patient reports. To be diagnosed with RLS, an individual must meet four criteria that were established by the International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group: 1. You must have an uncontrollable urge to move your legs due to an uneasy, creeping, crawling sensation. 2. Symptoms occur or worsen while you are resting. 3. Symptoms are relieved by activity such as getting up and walking around. 4. Symptoms worsen at night. If you suffer from RLS then you know these symptoms all too well.
I can first remember being afflicted with this frustrating condition while taking a medication to relieve anxiety and help me sleep. Obviously the medication did not do its job, because it only intensified my sleep deprivation because I could not lay still. I later found out that certain medications can make RLS worse. I feel that the medication exaggerated the symptoms that had always been there, unnoticed, on a much smaller scale. I can remember as a child having frequent pains in my legs at night that the doctor termed “growing pains”. These pains occurred at night when I was trying to go to sleep and could only be relieved when my parents would massage my legs. Since I am only 5’2″, I obviously didn’t have that many “growing pains”.
What to Avoid
There are certain things that can trigger RLS or intensify it. Try to reduce caffeine intake, especially at night (this is my greatest weakness). Drinking alcohol late at night also seems to bring on an attack of RLS. Certain medications can worsen your symptoms; such as antihistamines (Benadryl), certain anti-nausea medications (Phenergan), and some antidepressants especially SSRIs and tricyclic. If you are on any of these medications, you may want to speak with your doctor to see if there is another medication that you could take instead.
Believe it or not, there is hope (although when you are staring at the clock, counting down how few hours you have to sleep, it does not feel like it). I have found remedies that help decrease the symptoms and allow me to get to sleep. Regularly exercising and stretching has drastically decreased my RLS attacks. I have also found that heat really helps; if I put a heating pad in between my legs it seems to help me relax. There have also been times I have been so frustrated by lack of sleep that I would eventually hop in a hot bath in the middle of the night. Compression seems to be helpful for some people; many wrap their blanket tightly around their legs or use a heavy blanket when sleeping. I have found that for the same reason, if I pull my legs in tight to my body in a fetal position, I can get some relief. Sleeping with a pillow in-between my legs has also proven helpful. Try to keep your mind preoccupied by reading, playing a game (solitaire on my phone works well for me), watching TV or talking to others. If all else fails, get up and walk around for a little while.
RLS can sometimes be triggered by a deficiency in nutrients. It is believed that low dopamine levels in the brain can affect RLS. Iron is an important component in dopamine production, so if your iron is low it could be the problem. Folic Acid, Vitamin B and Magnesium supplements may also help. Always speak with your doctor before beginning any supplements.
Prescription Medications for Severe Cases
If your case is completely unbearable and nothing else seems to work, there are prescription medications that can help. Due to the correlation between low dopamine levels in the brain and RLS, medications for Parkinson’s disease are something to consider. Since RLS is neurological in nature, Epilepsy medications seem to work well for some people. However, with any drugs there are side effects and the effectiveness against RLS seems to diminish the longer you take the prescription drug. Opioid pain medications and sleep aids have also proven beneficial, but can be extremely addictive. I personally have not tried any prescription medications for RLS and I would suggest exhausting all other options first. The last thing that you need is more side effects to keep you awake.
Mayo Clinic, “Restless Leg Syndrome”, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/restless-legs-syndrome/basics/definition/con-20031101
Willis-Ekbom Disease Foundation, “Triggers for Restless Leg Syndrome”, http://www.rls.org/document.doc?id=2337