What is Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)?
About 10 percent of Americans suffer from the sleep disorder known as Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (1) People with RLS complain of unpleasant crawling, creeping or pulling sensations in their feet, calves and thighs when sitting still or lying in bed. These sensations trigger involuntary jerking leg movements. These movements can happen as often as every 15-40 seconds and continue all night long. Also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, RLS disrupts normal sleep cycles, leading to chronic sleep deprivation, daytime drowsiness and fatigue, and a poor quality of life.
What Causes Restless Legs Syndrome?
In most cases, the causes of RLS are not known. More than 40 percent of people with RLS have other family members who also suffer from RLS, indicating that there is a genetic component for many RLS patients. There is also evidence that RLS is linked to a disruption in the body’s utilization of dopamine — the biochemical that produces smooth, purposeful muscle activity and movement. People with Parkinson’s disease, a disorder affecting the brain’s dopamine pathways, are at increased risk of developing RLS. Other factors or underlying conditions that are linked to RLS include:
- iron deficiency;
- nerve damage;
- use of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine;
- end-stage renal disease and hemodialysis; and
- certain medications such as antinausea drugs (e.g. prochlorperazine or metoclopramide), antipsychotic drugs (e.g., haloperidol or phenothiazine derivatives), antidepressants that increase serotonin (e.g., fluoxetine or sertraline), and some cold and allergy medications that contain older antihistamines (e.g., diphenhydramine).
How is RLS Diagnosed?
Diagnosing RLS begins with a physical examination and blood tests that will check for possible neurological conditions and iron or other deficiencies that could be causing your symptoms. Your sleep doctor will also need to know what medications you are currently taking that could be contributing to your symptoms.
Treatments for RLS
In most cases, RLS is simply treated through medications such as Mirapex and Requip. When indicated, iron supplements may also be prescribed.
Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Reduce RLS Symptoms
Making a few changes in your daily lifestyle routines and habits can also reduce RLS symptoms:
- Reduce or eliminate caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco use.
- Go to bed at a regular time, and strive to wake up at the same time every morning.
- Get 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise every day such as walking or swimming.
- Massage or stretch your legs in the evening.
- Soak in a hot bath before bed.
Where to Find a Good RLS Doctor
The sleep experts at Comprehensive Neurology and Medicine have more than 30 years experience diagnosing and successfully treating thousands of patients throughout Maryland for RLS, insomnia, and other common sleep disorders. Dr. Konrad Bakker is board certified in sleep medicine by the American Board of Sleep Medicine as well as board certified in sleep by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Sarah E. Jamieson is a physician’s assistant with specialized training and experience in the diagnosis and treatment of RLS and other sleep disorders. Together, Dr. Bakker and Ms. Jamieson will listen to you carefully and develop a personalized treatment plan to help you overcome RLS so that you can get the sleep you need and enjoy a better quality of life. Call us today at (301) 694-0900 to schedule an appointment. Virtual appointments are also available, allowing you to receive an RLS consultation via our own phone or computer in the comfort of your home.