Your legs feel itchy during the night or when you’re trying to rest, sometimes forcing you to get out of bed during the night to move around. Movement buys a few moments of relief, but the sensations happen most nights of the week. It’s possible you’re experiencing restless legs syndrome, or the first signs of another medical problem.
What Is Restless Legs Syndrome?
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a condition that triggers an overpowering urge to move your legs, generally because you have an uncomfortable feeling. It usually happens in the evening or later when you’re at rest or lying down. You may get some relief in your legs, but it’s only temporary.
Restless legs syndrome is also called Willis-Ekbom disease and can worsen as you age, leading to sleep disruptions and interfering with daily life.
Know the Symptoms
- People who experience restless legs syndrome often describe the feeling using words like bubbling, crawling, drawing, pulling, searing, or tingling. It normally is felt beneath the skin, around the calf area, triggering an irresistible desire to move about. It’s not unusual for these feelings to creep into your thighs, feet, and arms. They’re often the first symptoms that some people experience.
- They happen you’re relaxed or sleeping, often between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.
- Symptoms get worse shortly after midnight but disappear by morning.
- Sleep is often disturbed because of the sensations and desire to move your legs, but if you resist, the tension could force your legs to move in a herky-jerky fashion.
Some of these symptoms can be managed with ketamine therapy from a specialty clinic, monitored by a team of medical professionals who monitor the medicine as it’s dispensed intravenously.
What Causes RLS?
No one knows the exact cause of RLS, but studies have revealed three factors that are pertinent to the disease: iron concentrations in the brain, brain dopamine concentrations, and genes.
- Iron insufficiency is the most potent environmental risk factor linked to restless legs syndrome
- Abnormal dopamine levels or problems with the dopamine system
- Alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine
- Pregnancy, particularly during the last trimester
- Nerve damage
Who Gets RLS?
Restless legs syndrome can affect anyone regardless of age or gender and is one of the most widespread sleep and movement disorders. It affects between 5 to 10 % of U.S. adults and 2 to 4% of children under 18 years old. For unknown reasons, RLS affects women more than men, and its frequency increases with age.
RLS and Other Diseases
Restless legs syndrome can mimic symptoms of other diseases or be a harbinger of another medical problem. When examined by a healthcare specialist, it’s essential to ask whether RLS could be a sign of something else, and about possible diagnosis and treatment options. Other conditions to be concerned about include:
- Venous disease.
- Symptoms of RLS are sometimes an indicator of peripheral neuropathy.
- Parkinson’s disease.
- Kidney disease.
- Rheumatoid arthritis. Some reports indicate that rheumatoid arthritis may be diagnosed in up to 30% of people with RLS.
- Periodic limb movement disorder, an ailment where your leg muscles contract and lurch every several seconds while you’re sleeping. These movements could be anywhere from less than a second in length, to 10 or more.
- Insomnia. In one study by Johns Hopkins Medicine, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to examine the brain and discovered glutamate — a chemical messenger involved in arousal — was at “abnormally high levels in people with RLS.” Higher levels of glutamate in the brain correlated to worsening sleep for people with restless legs disorder.
- Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. According to the American Academy of Neurology, 47.9% of people with depression also have RLS, and 22.7% for anxiety.
- RLS could be a sign of alcohol abuse, but more research is needed.
- Tobacco use disorders. In some cases, patients with RLS were also discovered to have been extreme tobacco users as the substance temporarily soothed pain related to the condition.
- Arthritis has been shown to occur in 28% of people with RLS, with 24% experiencing osteoarthritis.
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
- Cardiovascular disease.
- End-stage renal disease.
- Liver disease.
- Multiple sclerosis.
- Sleep disorders
- Somatoform pain disorder.
Criteria for diagnosing RLS revolves around the symptoms and how often they happen. Your healthcare provider may recommend a physical or neurological examination, plus blood and other tests. Treatment often involves pain relievers, muscle relaxers, or ketamine therapy from a specialty clinic.