Restless Leg Syndrome Disorder

What is Restless Leg Syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS), also called Willis-Ekbom Disease, causes unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them.  Symptoms commonly occur in the late afternoon or evening hours, and are often most severe at night when a person is resting, such as sitting or lying in bed.  They also may occur when someone is inactive and sitting for extended periods (for example, when taking a trip by plane or watching a movie).  Since symptoms can increase in severity during the night, it could become difficult to fall asleep or return to sleep after waking up.  Moving the legs or walking typically relieves the discomfort but the sensations often recur once the movement stops.  RLS is classified as a sleep disorder since the symptoms are triggered by resting and attempting to sleep, and as a movement disorder, since people are forced to move their legs in order to relieve symptoms.  It is, however, best characterized as a neurological sensory disorder with symptoms that are produced from within the brain itself.

How does RLS effect your health?

RLS is one of several disorders that can cause exhaustion and daytime sleepiness, which can strongly affect mood, concentration, job and school performance, and personal relationships.  Many people with RLS report they are often unable to concentrate, have impaired memory, or fail to accomplish daily tasks.  Untreated moderate to severe RLS can lead to about a 20 percent decrease in work productivity and can contribute to depression and anxiety.  It also can make traveling difficult.

It is estimated that up to 7-10 percent of the U.S. population may have RLS.  RLS occurs in both men and women, although women are more likely to have it than men.   It may begin at any age.  Many individuals who are severely affected are middle-aged or older, and the symptoms typically become more frequent and last longer with age.

Periodic Limb Movement of Sleep

More than 80 percent of people with RLS also experience periodic limb movement of sleep (PLMS).  PLMS is characterized by involuntary leg (and sometimes arm) twitching or jerking movements during sleep that typically occur every 15 to 40 seconds, sometimes throughout the night.  Although many individuals with RLS also develop PLMS, most people with PLMS do not experience RLS.

Fortunately, most cases of RLS can be treated with non-drug therapies and if necessary, medications.

RLS Sleep Symptoms

People with RLS feel the irresistible urge to move, which is accompanied by uncomfortable sensations in their lower limbs that are unlike normal sensations experienced by people without the disorder.  The sensations in their legs are often difficult to define but may be described as aching throbbing, pulling, itching, crawling, or creeping.  These sensations less commonly affect the arms, and rarely the chest or head.  Although the sensations can occur on just one side of the body, they most often affect both sides.  They can also alternate between sides. The sensations range in severity from uncomfortable to irritating to painful.

Because moving the legs (or other affected parts of the body) relieves the discomfort, people with RLS often keep their legs in motion to minimize or prevent the sensations.  They may pace the floor, constantly move their legs while sitting, and toss and turn in bed.

A classic feature of RLS is that the symptoms are worse at night with a distinct symptom-free period in the early morning, allowing for more refreshing sleep at that time.  Some people with RLS have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.  They may also note a worsening of symptoms if their sleep is further reduced by events or activity.

RLS symptoms may vary from day to day, in severity and frequency, and from person to person.  In moderately severe cases, symptoms occur only once or twice a week but often result in significant delay of sleep onset, with some disruption of daytime function.  In severe cases of RLS, the symptoms occur more than twice a week and result in burdensome interruption of sleep and impairment of daytime function.

People with RLS can sometimes experience remissions—spontaneous improvement over a period of weeks or months before symptoms reappear—usually during the early stages of the disorder.  In general, however, symptoms become more severe over time.

People who have both RLS and an associated medical condition tend to develop more severe symptoms rapidly.  In contrast, those who have RLS that is not related to any other condition show a very slow progression of the disorder, particularly if they experience onset at an early age; many years may pass before symptoms occur regularly.

Do You Suffer From Restless Leg Syndrome?

If you have difficulty sleeping at night and think you might have restless leg syndrome (RLS), contact the expert sleep team at Stellar Sleep today. We'll help you get a better nights sleep!