Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder that affects 5 to 10 percent of adults in the United States. It is characterized by an itching, crawling sensation in the legs. As a result, the person feels an overwhelming urge to relieve these feelings by moving the legs. For unclear reasons, the condition often flares up at night. This can make it particularly difficult to fall asleep.
Two types of RLS
Two types of RLS exist, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). One type begins during childhood. It is a lifelong issue that tends to run in families and worsens with age. The other kind of RLS comes about after the age of 45 and does not have a family link. With this kind of RLS, symptoms don’t usually get more severe. When symptoms do occur, they can be uncomfortable and, at times, painful. Even so, most people with RLS experience spontaneous periods of brief improvement.
Causes and treatment for RLS
Exactly what causes RLS isn’t fully understood at this point. Some experts believe that a disruption in the delivery of dopamine may play a part. (Dopamine is necessary to maintain normal, coordinated movements.) According to the NHLBI, some medical conditions and medication may trigger it. (RLS has been associated with kidney failure, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, pregnancy and more.) Regardless, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke asserts that the presence of RLS does not indicate the onset of another neurological disorder – like Parkinson’s, for example.
When it comes to treatment, medications that raise dopamine levels can be effective. However, they’ve also been shown to worsen symptoms over time. Benzodiazepines, which are generally used to treat muscle spasms, insomnia and anxiety, may also be an effective treatment. Some people with RLS benefit from opioids or anticonvulsant drugs. One large-scale 2013 study that spanned eight years suggested a link between RLS and early death.
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