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FAQ: Restless Leg Syndrome Print E-mail
Written by Mike Cohen   
Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Restless leg syndrome involves unusual sensations in the legs that cause frequent leg movements.

What is going on in the body?
No one knows exactly why restless leg syndrome occurs. People who suffer from restless leg syndrome have uncontrollable urges to move their legs. A feeling of discomfort in the leg prompts the need for movement. For some people, these sensations may be the result of nerve damage. The sensations may also be caused by decreased blood flow through some vessels in the legs.

These leg movements often occur after a person has gone to bed. This can make sleeping difficult. When the urge to move the leg happens during the day, a person may have to get up and walk around to relieve the discomfort.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?
While the exact cause of restless leg syndrome is unknown, there is a strong genetic link. It tends to run in families. In a recent study of identical twins with restless leg syndrome, 10 out of 12 pairs reported having the syndrome.

Restless leg syndrome is also more common in:
_ people who are 40 years of age or older
_ individuals who are under a lot of stress
_ pregnant women, especially in the third trimester of pregnancy
_ people with disorders of nerves that supply the muscles and skin, called peripheral nerve diseases
_ people with poor circulation who have intermittent limping, also called claudication, or leg pain that occurs when the person is walking
_ people with anemia, or a low red blood cell count. Many times, the anemia is caused by a low level of iron or folic acid in the person's body.
_ people with certain diseases and conditions, such as Parkinson's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic renal failure, diabetes, and alcoholism

The symptoms of restless leg syndrome seem to be worsened by food and drinks that are high in caffeine.

What are the treatments for the condition?
Treatment of restless leg syndrome begins with correction of any underlying disease or condition. For example, iron or folic acid supplements may be given to correct anemia. The healthcare provider will work with the person to treat other disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, poor circulation to the legs, and diabetes.

Lifestyle changes may help relieve the intensity of the symptoms of restless leg syndrome. A balanced diet following the food pyramid may be supplemented with vitamins and iron. Food and drinks containing caffeine, such as coffee, tea, and chocolate, should be avoided. Moderate exercise can contribute to better sleep habits.

Because sleep is often disrupted in a person with restless leg syndrome, good sleep habits are important. Here are some guidelines for good sleep:
_ Choose a cool, comfortable, quiet environment for sleep.
_ Go to bed at the same time every night.
_ Get up at the same time every morning.

While the symptoms of restless leg syndrome cannot be completely relieved, some people get relief from:
_ relaxation techniques, such as biofeedback, yoga, or meditation
_ stress management
_ acupressure
_ walking or stretching
_ a hot or cold bath
_ hot or cold packs
_ massaging the legs

Certain medications, including levodopa/carbidopa or tranquilizers such as clonazepam or lorazepam, can also be helpful. Occasionally, low doses of narcotic pain medications, such as codeine or oxycodone, can help relieve the symptoms of restless leg syndrome.

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Side effects of the medications used to treat restless leg syndrome include stomach upset and allergic reaction to the medication. Drowsiness and difficulty concentrating are side effects of narcotics and tranquilizers. These medications can also be addictive. Levodopa/carbidopa may cause nausea, headache, and loss of appetite.

What happens after treatment for the condition?
Treatment of restless leg syndrome is lifelong. Often, the person can improve his or her quality of life by making appropriate lifestyle changes.

How is the condition monitored?
Restless leg syndrome is monitored through periodic visits to the healthcare provider to discuss symptoms and appropriate treatment. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare provider.


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