Stopping Sleepless Nights - Restless Leg Syndrome Stopping Sleepless Nights - Restless Leg Syndrome
"Creepy-crawly," "prickly," "tingling," and "twitching" ... These are the words typically used to describe one of the most common but relatively unknown sleep disorders in the United States: Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS).
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), nearly 12 million Americans have RLS, and even though it's slowly becoming more recognized, many researchers believe RLS is misdiagnosed or never diagnosed at all, since many people feel their symptoms will not be taken seriously or cannot be treated. To address the continuing need for public education, the RLS Foundation, an organization committed to providing information and assisting RLS patients in finding a doctor or support group, is funding new research and sponsoring educational initiatives.
"My mother, my sister and I had these awful sensations. We couldn't sleep or sit still on long car rides. It was difficult for my father, our doctors and even my wife, to understand," said Bob Waterman, chairman of the RLS Foundation's board of directors. "We were relieved to finally discover we had a real illness; it had a name; it could be treated."
The classic symptom of RLS is uncomfortable sensations in the legs that worsen at night or when the legs have not moved for an extended period of time. The only way to relieve this feeling is by moving the legs, making a good night's sleep or any activities that restrict movement, such as long drives, plane trips, or going to movies or sporting events, very difficult.
"People suffering from RLS not only see their quality of life diminish, but they may be unaware they have a real disorder that can be diagnosed and treated," said John Winkelman, M.D., Ph.D., sleep specialist at Harvard Medical School and member of the RLS Foundation's medical advisory board. "Physicians also need to be aware of RLS so they can properly diagnose patients and prescribe the most appropriate medication when necessary."
Among the primary symptoms of RLS are:
- Compelling or irresistible urge to move the affected limbs (most often the legs);
- Uncomfortable (creepy-crawly) sensations deep in the limbs;
- The urge to move and the uncomfortable sensations are relieved with movement of the affected limbs;
- Symptoms are worse in the evening and at night, especially when the individual is at rest.
Associated features of RLS include:
- Periodic leg movements (PLM), characterized by a repetitive jerking of the leg, either during sleep or when awake;
- Sleep disturbance and fatigue;
- Family history;
- Absence of other conditions known to cause RLS symptoms, such as iron deficiency and pregnancy.
"By educating yourself, you develop a greater understanding of the condition and can have a more productive discussion with your doctor," said Waterman. "The recognition of RLS symptoms by you and your doctor will lead to a quicker diagnosis and treatment."
The RLS Foundation recently held its first national meeting to share new research among doctors and patients. The foundation has also established Sept. 23, the birth date of RLS discoverer Dr. Karl Ekbom, as the annual International RLS Awareness Day.
While new research is being conducted, there are many effective treatments for RLS currently available. In mild cases, simple lifestyle changes such as taking baths, having massages, doing yoga and other relaxation exercises, and eliminating caffeine and alcohol may improve symptoms. In severe cases, various classes of medication, including dopaminergic agents, sedatives, anti-convulsants and pain relievers, have relieved RLS symptoms. However, all of the classes of drugs have varying benefits and side effects, so patients must discuss which medication is most appropriate for them with their doctors.
For more information about RLS or to find a local support group, please call the RLS Foundation's toll free number at (877) 463-6757 or visit the foundation's Web site at www.rls.org.
Courtesy of ARA Content