In the United States about 5-15% of the population is thought to have restless legs syndrome (RLS). RLS is a condition where the snuffer’s legs feel uncomfortable, most likely in the evening while sitting or lying. Common symptoms include the sensations of crawling, creeping, throbbing, burning and pain in the legs. In RLS you feel like you need to get up and move. The movement makes the unpleasant feelings in the legs go away. RLS can disrupt a good night’s sleep causing daytime drowsiness in sufferers.
RLS can start at any age and can even occur in childhood. Remember growing pains that children were told they have? The growing pain can be RLS. RLS is found more frequently in older adults.
Another disorder called periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) is often associated with RLS. In PLMD the legs flex and extend while sleeping resulting in difficult sleep for both the person and their partner. It is thought that up to 80% of people with RLS also have PLMD.
Possible Underlying Conditions
Other conditions can occasionally underlie RLS. Diabetes and alcoholism can cause nerve damage that can lead to a peripheral neuropathy resulting in RLS. Iron deficiency anemia can worsen or cause RLS. Kidney failure often results in anemia and can cause RLS. Medication may also contribute or cause RLS with antidepressants, allergy medication with antihistamines and anti-nausea drugs being the most common contributing medication. Pregnancy may also cause RLS and is most common in the last trimester. The RLS usually goes away about 1 month after delivery. It is important to note that most causes of RLS are not serious.
Medications for RLS
The FDA has approved dopaminergic drugs for the treatment of RLS. These include Reuip and Mirapex. Some doctors prescribe narcotics to control the pains associated with RLS. Others will use anticonvulsants such as Neurotin and Tegretol.
Natural and Alternative Approaches
Massage and Stretching
Massage and warm and cold compresses may be helpful in relieving the tingly sensations of RLS. Stretching before bedtime may also be helpful. Make sure to stretch your ankles, calf, and hamstrings. Massage is a counter irritant and may help with RLS. You can do it yourself or have a family member massage legs in the evening.
Diet and RLS
Hyperinsulinism is thought to contribute to RLS. One study found that those with reactive hypoglycemia had a much higher rate of RLS than the general population. Trying a hypoglycemic diet with low glycemic meals taken 5-6 times a day may be helpful for some sufferers.
Coffee is a stimulant and eliminating caffeine may be helpful in some cases.
Vitamins and Nutrition
Iron deficiency may contribute to RLS. Iron is also necessary to make dopamine in the body and medical treatment often consists of dopamine agonist. About 1 in 4 people with RLS have an iron deficiency anemia (IDA). The research shows that those with IDA are most helped by iron supplementation and those who do not suffer from IDA are much less likely to be help by iron supplementation. Iron supplementation should not be used for patients without IDA.
Folic acid appears to be helpful in some cases of pregnancy caused RLS. Folic acid supplementation is always important in pregnancy and should be part of any prenatal multi-vitamin.
Vitamin E in higher dosages has been used to treat RLS. Dosages ran from 300-1500 IUs daily. If vitamin E works the improvement is rather rapid. If vitamin E does work a maintenance dosage is usually required after improvement to maintain progress.
Magnesium is deficient in in many Americans. RLS may be relieved by using 300 mg of magnesium before bedtime.
RLS can be very difficult the people who suffer from it. There are natural alternatives to consider before trying strong and addictive medications. Diet along with a nutritional program may be just the right prescription for you.