You have an irresistible urge to move your legs, especially at night or when you’re trying to rest. If you’re immobile or inactive for a long time, the pain increases. Magically, it subsides a little when you move around – but relief is short-term. You may be experiencing restless leg syndrome, but the symptoms can be managed.
What Is RLS?
“Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a condition that causes an uncontrollable urge to move the legs, usually because of an uncomfortable sensation. It typically happens in the evening or nighttime hours when you’re sitting or lying down. Moving eases the unpleasant feeling temporarily.”
The condition is also called Willis-Ekbom disease and can start at any age and worsens over time. Restless leg syndrome has been known to cause sleep disruptions and interfere with a person’s daily life.
What Are The Symptoms?
- There’s a strong desire to move your legs, paired with or caused by painful sensations in the legs.
- Resting or inactivity makes the symptoms worse, like when you’re sitting or lying down.
- Walking or stretching may offer temporary relief, but the pain can start once you stop what you were doing.
- Symptoms are worse in the evening or nighttime or only happen in that timeframe.
- Symptoms aren’t always caused by another condition like leg cramps, positional discomfort, leg swelling, or arthritis.
Before treating RLS with therapy or medicine like ketamine, it’s critical to know possible causes, which may include:
- Hereditary factors, particularly if RLS starts before age 40. Studies have found evidence of genes that may cause the condition.
- Pregnancy or hormonal shifts may momentarily worsen RLS symptoms. Some women suffer from restless leg syndrome for the first time while pregnant, especially during the last three months. We’ll talk about that more shortly.
What’s The Prognosis?
“RLS is generally a lifelong condition for which there is no cure. However, current therapies can control the disorder, minimize symptoms, and increase periods of restful sleep.” But getting diagnosed with RLS doesn’t necessarily indicate the presence of another neurological disease like Parkinson’s, and there could be years’ long stretches where you don’t have any symptoms at all – until they come roaring back with little warning. RLS doesn’t have to rule your life like many conditions or illnesses.
RLS & Pregnancy
RLS is connected to an unpleasant sensation in the legs that worsens in the evening, particularly at bedtime, leading to an urge to move your legs. Moving your legs or rubbing them reduces this sensation. Most people would admit this can be disruptive when you’re looking forward to a good night’s rest, which is critical during pregnancy. Pregnancy increases the risk of getting RLS, and the symptoms are known to be the most severe during the final trimester of pregnancy. When RLS happens for the first time while pregnant, it’s considered secondary RLS instead of idiopathic restless leg syndrome – a condition whose cause is unknown. Luckily for most women who have RLS during pregnancy, the symptoms fade away soon after childbirth. But that’s not necessarily the case for all women. Some women experience the symptoms for weeks after giving birth. When the symptoms begin is another problematic time because it can foreshadow a long duration of a woman experiencing restless nights before finding relief.
According to Michigan Medicine’s Galit Dunietz, Ph.D., MPH, a pleasant night’s sleep can be hard-to-come-by while pregnant. But women — and their healthcare providers — shouldn’t assume the symptoms of inadequate sleep are typical pregnancy grumbles. Nor should they think the problem can’t be resolved just because many medicines are off-limits while pregnant. Dunietz also said some of the sleep disturbances experienced during pregnancy could be alleviated by treating RLS symptoms.
“The more severe the RLS is, the more likely you are to have sleep disturbances during pregnancy,” Dunietz said.
Diagnosis & Treatment
To be diagnosed with RLS, your healthcare provider will complete a physical examination, inquire about your personal and family medical history, and compare your symptoms with those mentioned earlier (established by the International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group). You may also undergo a neurological exam and blood tests, and you may be referred to a sleep study in the event apnea or another sleep disorder is suspected.
For treatment, your healthcare provider may recommend lifestyle changes and prescription medicine to increase dopamine in the brain, muscle relaxants, sleep aids, and others. In some cases, ketamine therapy may be a possibility.