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Help for restless legs syndrome
Do your legs sometimes feel itchy and uncomfortable, and you get an irresistible urge to move them — just when you wish you could lie still and fall asleep?
Is it occurring on too many nights to count? Then you might have restless legs syndrome (RLS), a clinical condition that can be evaluated and managed. To learn more, BeWell spoke with Chad Ruoff, MD, clinical assistant professor at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine.
What does it feel like to have RLS?
A classic restless legs syndrome (RLS) sufferer will often describe odd or almost indescribable sensations in the legs, such as ants crawling on the skin, coca-cola in the veins, and/or legs feeling heavy. These symptoms occur most often in the evening hours, and are frequently associated with the urge to move the legs. Movement does seem to relieve the sensations.
How can I be sure that I actually have RLS, and who tends to get it?
The diagnosis of RLS is a clinical diagnosis. There are no tests that can be performed to confirm the diagnosis. Other diagnoses, such as neuropathy secondary to conditions such as diabetes or lower back problems, must be considered.
RLS does tend to run in families. Heredity accounts for approximately 50% of cases. In addition, a reversible secondary cause of restless leg syndrome is iron deficiency. Lastly, RLS does tend to present in pregnancy; it is estimated that up to 25 % of mothers experience RLS symptoms.
Can RLS be treated?
There are a variety of simple treatment options for RLS, including warm/cold baths/showers, avoiding certain over-the-counter medications, mild exercise, massage, and avoiding potential triggers such as alcohol, caffeine, and certain medications (e.g., over-the counter sleep aides).
If these conservative measures fail to reduce the severity of RLS symptoms, then there are prescription medications that can treat the condition quite well. The decision to take a medication for RLS is ultimately up to the patient. If the RLS symptoms are disruptive to sleep most nights of the week (e.g., prevent the onset of sleep, require the patient to get up and walk around or even exercise multiple times during the night), then a trial of a medication may be warranted.
For RLS diagnosis and management, we at Stanford are fortunate to have the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, one of only six certified quality care centers in the U.S. The Stanford Sleep Center includes an established RLS specialty clinic held once per month staffed by Dr. Mark Buchfuhrer.
By Deborah Balfanz and Lane McKenna