“Okay, Billy Boy, according to your previous article it sure looks as though I’m dealin’ with restless legs syndrome. Great! So just what am I supposed to do about it?!”
Two days ago we began a two-part series on restless legs syndrome (RLS). I posted the series because the manifestations of RLS often lead to presentations of depression and anxiety. In fact, it’s thought that the mood and anxiety disorders may generate RLS.
Quick review: RLS is a neurological disorder characterized by an irresistible urge to move one’s body to stop uncomfortable or odd sensations. Typically affecting the legs, RLS causes them to become extremely uncomfortable while sitting or lying down – most often in the evening. And the presenting sensations strongly motivate one to get-up and in some manner move around – which provides temporary relief.
In the first piece of the series we discussed just what RLS is and its causes. Now we’re going to chat how it’s diagnosed and relief alternatives.
Restless Legs Syndrome Diagnosis
You believe you have RLS, so off you go for a physician visit for confirmation and treatment. What’s gonna’ happen?
Well, there are no tests that will confirm a diagnosis of RLS. Nope, a diagnosis will be based upon your symptom and medical history report. And to walk-away with a diagnosis of RLS you’ll have to meet four criteria established by the International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group…
- A strong, often irresistible urge to move your legs, usually accompanied by uncomfortable sensations. These sensations are typically described as crawling, creeping, cramping, tingling, pulling, tugging, or itching.
- Symptoms start or get worse when you’re resting, such as sitting or lying down.
- Symptoms are partially or temporarily relieved by activity, such as walking or stretching, for as long as you keep moving.
- Symptoms are worse at night.
Now, blood work, or muscle or nerve studies, may be ordered; however, that’s to weed-out the “rule-outs.”
Oh, your doc may refer you to a sleep specialist for an evaluation – an overnight study possibly resulting. That’s to check for periodic limb movements during sleep. Why is that important? Because some 80% of those enduring RLS have a condition called periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD).
Restless Legs Syndrome Treatment
When it comes to treating RLS, the first order of business is to address conditions that may be generating your particular case. Examples: an iron deficiency or peripheral neuropathy.
Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies
If you have RLS without any associated conditions, treatment initially involves lifestyle changes and home remedies. Let’s take a peek at some great recommendations…
- Use an over-the-counter pain reliever – say, ibuprofen – when distressing sensations begin.
- Relax your muscles by soaking in a warm bath and massaging your legs.
- Apply warm or cool packs – alternate their use.
- Stress can aggravate RLS, so give relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga, a go – especially before going to bed.
- Practice good sleep hygiene: Have a cool, quiet, and comfortable sleeping environment, go to bed and rise at the same time, get enough sleep to feel well rested.
- Exercise moderately and regularly. But don’t overdo it or work-out too late in the day – could bring trouble.
- Test reductions in caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.
So, okay – the lifestyle changes and home remedies didn’t bring much in the way of relief. Perhaps it’s time to consider medication. Often recommended are…
- Medications for Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy
- Opioid analgesics
- Muscle relaxants and sleep medications
It’s so very important that you chat long and seriously with your physician before turning to medications to treat your RLS. There’s so much to consider, including pregnancy, side effects, addiction potential, and meds that worsen RLS (most antidepressants and some anti-nausea drugs).
Like it or not, fact is RLS is most often a lifelong condition. So that means coming-up with effective coping strategies is a huge priority. Here are some recommendations from the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation…
- Sharing information about your RLS situation will help family members, friends, and co-workers better understand your symptomatology.
- Don’t resist your need for movement. If you attempt to suppress the urge to move, you may find that your symptoms only get worse.
- Keep a sleep diary. And record the medications and strategies that help or hinder your RLS battle. Share the info with your doc.
- Adapt your work space for standing. Think about elevating your desktop or book-stand to a height that will allow you to stand while you work or read.
- Begin and end your day with stretching exercises or gentle massage.
- Support groups bring together family members and those enduring RLS. By participating in a group your insights can help you, and others as well.
And That’ll Do It
It’s time to tie a bow on our two-part restless legs syndrome series. Perhaps you endure the disorder. Maybe it’s a family member or friend. In either case, I hope you found the information helpful – ’cause that’s what chipur is all about.
Image credit: usatoday.com