What Is Restless Legs Syndrome?
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a sensory disorder that causes an almost irresistible urge to move the legs. The urge to move is usually due to unpleasant feelings in the legs that occur when at rest.
Individuals with RLS use words such as creeping, crawling, tingling, or burning to describe these sensations.
Because restless legs syndrome symptoms occur while an individual is at rest and it often interfers with getting a good night's sleep, it is considered a sleep disorder. Restless legs syndrome is treated by neurologists who are board-certified in specialized sleep medicine training at the Washington University Sleep Center, under the direction of Stephen P. Duntley, MD.
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A more detailed description of various sleep disorders and treatment options can be found at the Washington University Sleep Medicine Center web site, or view the sleep study video and experience a night at the Washington University Sleep Medicine Center.
Severity Of Restless Legs Symptoms
RLS symptoms can range from mild to severe, based on:
How much discomfort you have in your legs and arms.
Whether you feel the need to move your extremities.
How much relief you get from moving around.
Your level of sleep disturbance.
How tired or sleepy you are during the day.
Frequency of your symptoms.
The severity of your symptoms on most days.
Your ability to carry out daily activities.
How angry, depressed, sad, anxious, or irritable you feel.
Effects Of Restless Legs Syndrome
RLS can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. People with RLS often don’t get enough sleep and may feel tired and sleepy during the day. Like other sleep disorders, this can make it difficult to:
Concentrate, making it harder to learn and remember things,
Work at a proficient level,
Carry out other usual daily activities,
Take part in family and social activities.
While moving the legs eases the feelings, it provides only short-term relief. The unpleasant feelings may also occur in the arms.
Not getting enough sleep can also make you feel depressed or have mood swings.
Types Of Restless Legs Syndrome
There are two types of RLS:
Primary RLS is the most common type and is also called idiopathic RLS. Primary means the cause is not known. Primary RLS, once it starts, usually becomes a lifelong condition. Over time, symptoms tend to get worse and occur more often, especially if they began in childhood or early in adult life. In milder cases, there may be long periods of time with no symptoms, or symptoms may last only for a limited time.
Secondary RLS is caused by another disease process or condition. Sometimes RLS can occur as a side-effect from taking certain medicines. Symptoms usually go away when the disease or condition improves, or when the offending medicine is stopped.
Restless Legs Syndrome Treatments And Research
RLS can be unpleasant and uncomfortable. However, there are some simple self-care approaches and lifestyle changes that can help in mild cases. RLS symptoms often improve with medical treatment.
Patients are evaluated for RLS and other sleep disorders by neurologists, specifically trained and board-certified in sleep medicine, at the Washington University Sleep Medicine Center.
Periodic Limb Movement Disorder
Most people with restless legs syndrome also have a condition called periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD). PLMD is a condition in which a person’s legs twitch or jerk uncontrollably about every 10 to 60 seconds. This usually happens during sleep and is considered to be another type of sleep disorder.
These movements cause repeated awakenings that disturb or reduce sleep. PLMD usually affects the legs but can also affect the arms.