Restless leg syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by extreme discomfort in the legs, which sufferers try to alleviate by moving or shifting. Sensations in the legs can range from creeping, to burning, to tugging, and they can sometimes be extraordinarily painful. Many people suffering from this condition constantly jiggle or twitch the legs, and have difficulty sitting still for long periods of time or sleeping. There are a number of underlying causes for restless leg syndrome in both its primary and secondary forms, and a number of options for treatment, depending on the severity.
Primary restless leg syndrome is an idiopathic medical condition, which means that it can be diagnosed, but the cause is unclear. Onset of the problem is usually early in life and very gradual. Secondary cases have an underlying cause that can be identified. Some of the more common causes are iron deficiency, early stages of pregnancy, and some medications, including antidepressants, antihistamines, and anti-nausea drugs. Consumption of caffeine, alcohol, and diet soda has also been linked to restless leg syndrome.
There are two basic approaches to treating this condition: lifestyle changes and medication. Most medical professionals recommend that patients start out with lifestyle changes first and see if the problem improves. Lifestyle changes include improving sleep habits; cutting down on caffeine, tobacco, sugars, and alcohol; checking iron levels and increasing iron intake if necessary; and exercising. Some individuals with restless leg syndrome have found that swimming, walking, running, or doing yoga have helped with the condition. In addition, use of massage and hot/cold compresses has also been shown to help.
If restless leg syndrome does not respond to lifestyle changes, a number of medication options can be pursued, and it may take several tries to find one that is right for the patient. Several classes of drugs may be used, including medications that are used to treat Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, and convulsions. Some individuals have responded well to dopamine agonists, a group of drugs that act like the neurotransmitter dopamine, which helps to govern body movement. Sedatives and pain relievers may be used for people who are having difficulty sleeping or experiencing extreme pain as a result of this condition.
By working together with a healthcare professional, a patient can establish a program of care that will treat the symptoms associated with restless leg syndrome. The condition is not curable, but with lifestyle changes and medication, it can usually be minimized. When discussing concerns about this problem with a medical professional, patients should be clear and specific, and share all information about their symptoms and lifestyle so that the healthcare provider can pursue the best course of treatment possible.