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Living With Restless Legs Syndrome

By Edited Mar 7, 2016 4 7

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.



Aug 22, 2014 6:05pm
Informative article!
Aug 23, 2014 12:01am
Very conclusive article on a subject that many people suffer. My mum suffers from this and at times she gets up crying and just about pulling her hair out she told me. She has tried so many things some work for a while like magnesium, hot water bottle and many others like exercise. But some nights she lays there awake for hours and cannot sleep. Although her husband says just go to sleep it will go away. So he does not even hear her doing exercises in bed nor all her moving about.
At the moment she has very High blood pressure and she thinks the medication she takes for that is helping her sleep. She only gets it at night. Sometimes she does not get it for weeks then it will happen every night and it does not make any difference if she massages or moves about it just does not go. So frustrating thats for sure, I feel sorry for anyone with this problem.
Aug 23, 2014 2:11am
My heart goes out to your mom. It's very frustrating, demanding complete attention! I'm having a mild episode as I write this. Your mom might want to take a look at the RLS support group mentioned in the article. It contains hundreds of patient letters and she might glean some ideas she can use. I take generic Requip for mine. It's somewhat helpful though not dependable about calming my leg quickly.
Thank you for reading and your comments. I do hope your mom can get something to relieve the spasms.
Aug 23, 2014 9:34pm
Well-written piece, my friend TanoCalvenoa (here on InfoBarrel) suffered from RLS. Thumbs up and pinning.
Aug 23, 2014 10:20pm
Hello, I'd like to add what I've learned about RLS. I had very severe RLS from 2010 to 2012, and it went away completely when I overhauled how I eat. The two changes that I made that made the biggest difference were (1) only drinking water and nothing else, and drinking plenty of it each day, and (2) eliminating gluten. I believe RLS is caused by inflammation of the nervous system. For me it can come back if I eat foods with gluten, MSG, or corn syrup. Ordinarily though, if I follow my strict eating standards, it's 100% in remission.
Aug 23, 2014 10:34pm
Oh so glad you chimed in Jonathan, I know changing your diet helped tremendously.
Aug 24, 2014 8:33am
Fantastic information, Tano. Thank you very much. I'd be so relieved to get rid of my RLS.
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