Do I Have Restless Leg Syndrome?

woman having trouble sleeping It’s estimated that up to 10% of people deal with restless legs syndrome, a disorder that can affect people of any age. Tingling, aching, and other sensations can create an almost uncontrollable urge to move your legs, interfering with your sleep and ability to relax.

In this blog, board-certified sleep medicine specialist Dr. Samit Malhotra of Sleep & Neuroscience Associates helps you determine whether you might need to talk to a doctor about restless legs syndrome.

What is restless legs syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is characterized by uncomfortable sensations in your legs as well as the urge to move them. It’s a nervous system disorder as well as a sleep disorder since symptoms are usually triggered when you’re resting or trying to go to sleep.

Symptoms often start in the late afternoon or evening, and they’re frequently described as a “pins and needles” or “creepy crawly” sensation in your legs. Sitting or lying down tends to make symptoms worse.

These feelings can come and go, and they may affect you slightly or severely. If you have severe symptoms, the quality of your sleep can be regularly disrupted, which affects your quality of life, safety, and overall health and well-being.

What causes it?

Doctors often aren’t sure exactly what causes restless legs syndrome. It’s thought to have a genetic component, however, since almost half, the people who have RLS have a relative who has it.

The following have also been linked to or may worsen restless legs syndrome:

  • Chronic diseases – including diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, kidney failure, iron deficiency, and peripheral neuropathy
  • Certain medications – such as older antihistamines or antidepressants that increase serotonin
  • Alcohol or nicotine
  • Caffeine
  • Pregnancy

How is it diagnosed?

No specific test is available to confirm a diagnosis of RLS, so you should consult a sleep specialist to evaluate your symptoms. Generally, the following may lead to a diagnosis of RLS:

  • You have an overwhelming urge to move your legs, often accompanied by uncomfortable sensations
  • Your symptoms start or get worse when you’re resting or inactive
  • Moving your legs temporarily helps your symptoms
  • Your symptoms start or get worse in the evening or at night
  • You don’t have another medical or behavioral condition that causes the previous four features

Your sleep doctor will talk to you about your family and medical history, as well as your medications. A neurological and physical exam may also be conducted, and laboratory tests may be conducted to help rule out other conditions.

What treatment options are available?

Treatment for RLS may include:

  • Good sleep habits – establishing a consistent sleep routine and creating a comfortable atmosphere in which to sleep
  • Leg massages
  • Heat or cold - Hot baths, heating pads, or ice packs applied to your legs
  • Avoiding problematic substances – such as alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine
  • Treating underlying health conditions – such as iron deficiency or diabetes since they can cause or worsen restless legs syndrome
  • Medication - using FDA-approved medications
  • Sleep devices – to help improve symptoms

If you’re experiencing symptoms that could indicate you may have restless legs syndrome, make an appointment today for an evaluation with Sleep & Neuroscience Associates in Greenwich, CT. Dr. Malhotra specializes in diagnosing sleep disorders including RLS and is board-certified in sleep medicine as well as neurology. He'll provide an accurate diagnosis for your symptoms and devise an effective treatment plan to help you get rest and relief.

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