Restless legs syndrome (RLS) affects about 10 percent of the U.S. population. It is characterized by spasms in the leg that cause it to kick out involuntarily -- it has to move. Some people have referred to these feelings as creepy crawlies, crazy legs, or any number of other descriptive names. If you have similar symptoms, you might have RLS.

There are no medical tests to conclusively determine whether or not a person has RLS. People who have the condition do not need the results of a test to prove they have it.

Most people who are afflicted only experience symptoms in the evening and night, especially when trying to relax. However, RLS is a progressive condition that gets worse over the course of time. I have no way of knowing if there is a peak from which it won't get worse. A few more years of life will determine that. Hopefully, a cure will be found.

The urgent spasms that overtook my leg, forcing it to kick, only bothered me at night in 1981. However, RLS episodes at this time occur at random times during the day as well as at night. Generally, one leg at a time gets restless. On occasion, both legs are in spasms. With me, the knees are the epicenter. The smallest things can trigger an RLS episode … my cat brushing against my leg, a pedicurist touching my foot, an itch on my thigh.

What causes RLS?

Research has determined that it is a neurological condition. However, no conclusions have been reached as to a specific factor. RLS has been linked to, among other things:

•    family history of RLS
•    high blood pressure
•    pregnancy
•    anemia
•    diabetes

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) researchers are investigating the possible role of dopamine function in RLS. Dopamine is a chemical messenger which sends signals from one area of the brain to the other, regulating smooth, purposeful muscle activity. Impaired transmission of dopamine signals may play a role in RLS. Further research is being conducted.

Help with RLS symptoms:

Medications that help calm the RLS symptoms are available. Sometimes Parkinson's medications are used because of the dopamine connection. As a preventive measure, I take my pill in the morning along with my other medications. If I didn't wake up with RLS symptoms, taking the pill first thing in the morning usually keeps my legs calm for several hours.

Walking, dancing or riding a bike are a few ways of getting relief. Even sitting and raising the legs, alternating from right to left, can help. Sometimes I sit and rub my knees, which temporarily masks the spasms. While RLS spasms have gotten me out of bed, getting into bed when symptoms are present has helped, particularly because my legs are straight. Then I just move my legs (as if walking or riding a bike), and eventually the leg relaxes. When I’m not home, however, I stand up, walk around and, where possible, do some exercises that stretch the legs.

Mark Buchfuhrer, M.D., a sleep and RLS specialist, has been a very helpful resource to RLS sufferers all over the world. When I lived in the Los Angeles area, I was one of his patients.
Discover foods that might trigger RLS episodes, vitamin and mineral supplements that have helped some, the benefits and pitfalls of various prescription medications, and more. Dr. Buchfuhrer is the advisor of the Southern California RLS Support Group. This is a very useful site well worth visiting.

Need for Increased Awareness:

RLS is getting more publicity. I’ve seen commercials on television advertising Requip, a popular medicine used to treat RLS. There isn't a “one-size-fits-all” treatment that is helpful to everyone suffering from RLS. Medicines for Parkinson’s disease are very effective for many RLS patients. Both conditions involve the nervous system and involve spasms.

This article is addressed to people who do not have restless legs syndrome, as well. Your awareness is important, especially if you are a caregiver or in the medical field. The spasms (leg movements) are involuntary. Asking a person to stop twitching or kicking is like asking him or her to stop breathing or blinking.