Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder characterized by an uncomfortable sensation in the body — most often in the legs — which prompts the sufferer to continuously move the affected body part in an attempt to gain relief. The feeling is often described as a “crawling” or “uncomfortable tickling” sensation or one that makes you want to “jump out of your skin.”
The discomfort is most severe when the sufferer is sitting or lying still. Moving temporarily relieves the sensation, but the discomfort usually returns as soon as the movement stops. RLS makes it extremely difficult for the sufferer to simply relax or sleep and therefore is capable of drastically lowering one’s quality of life.
RLS is classified as either a primary or secondary condition. Primary RLS begins earlier in life, has a slow but worsening progression and has no known cause. Secondary RLS begins later in life, typically after the age of 40, and is tied to a specific medical condition or the use of a certain drug.
The most prevalent medical condition associated with RLS is having abnormal levels of iron, whether through iron deficiency or having increased levels of stored iron. Iron is known to be an essential co-factor in the formation of L-dopa, the precursor of dopamine, which has been implicated in RLS as well. Other medical conditions associated with RLS include ADHD, magnesium or folate deficiency, Parkinson’s disease, varicose veins, fibromyalgia, celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Treatment may involve taking a dopamine-agonist medication, although long-term use of these drugs can exacerbate symptoms or cause a rebound effect (a worsening of symptoms as the drug wears off). Opioids may be given as a last resort in treatment-resistant cases. The FDA recently approved of a counter-stimulation vibrational pad to help RLS patients get a good night’s sleep. The vibrations stimulate the legs so the patient can obtain relief without having to move around.
Example: Bob wakes up several times a night with a restless achy feeling in his legs. He usually has to walk around his bedroom several times before he can fall back asleep.