Restless Legs Syndrome in Children

child rlsWhat is Restless Legs Syndrome?

Restless Legs Syndrome, also referred to as RLS or Willis-Ekbom Disease, is a condition characterized by uncomfortable feelings in one or both legs and a constant urge to re-position them. It can be experienced at any time of day or night, but episodes often become far more intense in the evening.

Both adults and children can suffer from RLS. Although it does not cause any specific damage to the legs, it is associated with other issues, particularly sleep disturbances. People who have RLS may be kept awake by the need to move their legs excessively while lying in bed.

What Are Signs of Restless Legs Syndrome in Kids?

Before receiving a diagnosis, RLS may be misunderstood as fidgeting. Children often find it hard to describe exactly what they experience with RLS. It’s important to be alert to their symptoms and to contact a physician if you think there may be a problem that warrants further investigation.

Kids who have RLS may:

  • Describe a “creepy crawly” feeling they identify as on or inside of their legs
  • Twitch, kick, or toss and turn while lying in bed to relieve their condition
  • Walk or pace around shortly before bed to try to avoid the sensation
  • Have difficulty sitting down for long periods of time, such as in class
  • Suffer daytime drowsiness or changes in mood due to lack of sleep

What Causes Restless Legs Syndrome in Kids?

People can develop RLS at any time of life, not just during childhood. A family history of RLS may be a risk factor.

A diagnosis of Restless Legs Syndrome starts by talking with the child about their symptoms. There are no specific tests that determine whether someone has RLS, but tests may be given to rule out other disorders.

What Are Ways to Manage Restless Legs Syndrome?

There are several changes you can make to a child’s lifestyle and bedtime routine to help control the condition:

Adjust Bedtime Routines

Most children have a particular sleep routine. No matter the age, adjust activities so your child does not need to get into bed until it is time to fall asleep. For example, young kids should sit up during story time rather than lie down as they listen.

Consider At-Home Care

The discomfort caused by Restless Legs Syndrome can be treated at home. Carefully test out the application of hot packs and cold packs to find out which options produce relief. You can also consider giving a massage as a method of keeping their legs comfortable.

Reduce Caffeine Use

Although most children do not drink coffee, they may have caffeine intake through soda. If you cannot eliminate caffeine consumption, be sure to discontinue its use within four hours before bed.

Exercise Before Bedtime

Exercise produces some relief from RLS symptoms among patients of any age. To maximize the effect, it is recommended that your child exercise anywhere from 3-5 hours before bed. Vigorous exercise too soon before bed can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

If you suspect your child is showing symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome, make an appointment with Dr. Malhotra at Sleep & Neuroscience Associates in Greenwich, CT. He specializes in the diagnosis and can provide treatment options for your child.

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