Ever had that strong, uncontrollable need to shake your leg? Chances are you have noticed this in a friend or a co-worker even if you have not had the feeling yourself.
This is considered to be the main symptom of a disorder known as Restless Legs Syndrome or RLS. It can involve uncomfortable and possibly painful sensations described as aching, creeping, crawling, or prickling.
RLS symptoms are estimated to affect around 7 to 8 percent of adults in the United States. According to the Cleveland Clinic, older adults are the age group with the highest risk. Women are also more likely to experience RLS than men.
Since there is no way to test for the disorder, doctors can only identify it by listening to the patient describe their symptoms. They will look for a number of essential features that are required for an RLS diagnosis.
Among them, the urge tends to strike during a state of rest such as being seated on the couch or lying down in bed. The symptoms are usually worse in the evening or nighttime compared to the daytime.
Your iron levels may be checked as the disorder has been linked to a deficiency of the nutrient. After bringing the levels back to normal, RLS symptoms have also reduced in some cases.
The relationship between iron and RLS is not yet fully understood, according to Suzanne Bertisch, a sleep physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. But one should avoid taking supplements without consulting a doctor as excess iron levels can lead to other problems.
The doctor will have to make sure you are not experiencing nerve damage, arthritis, or any other condition which induces symptoms similar to RLS. One in five pregnant women will experience restless legs but the urge will disappear after she has given birth.
If symptoms are manageable and do not interfere with functioning and daily life, they do not require treatment. In most cases of RLS, symptoms are mild and only flare up due to poor sleep and other factors.
Food and Drug Administration-approved medications are available for those whose symptoms are on the severe side. They may have some mild side effects like nausea, headaches, and fatigue. In addition to lifestyle changes, one can also try out stretching exercises, warm baths, or massages to provide some relief.
“The medicines tend to stop working after 2 or 3 years, though newer ones may help for 8 to 10 years,” said Norma Cuellar, a professor of nursing at Capstone College of Nursing, Alabama. “But the older you get, the worse your symptoms, so it’s a good idea to find alternative ways to manage them.”