Dr Dillner's health dilemmas: should you get treatment for restless legs?

A reader has written to ask what to do about her restless legs, which are causing her much discomfort. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) may sound more irritating than serious but anyone who repeatedly feels an overwhelming need to move their legs combined with a sensation commonly described as "insects crawling under the skin" will tell you that it's a deeply unpleasant condition.

It is also known as Ekbom's disease, after the doctor who first described it in 1945, and is diagnosed by the following criteria: an urge to move your legs when resting, often at night; unpleasant sensations; and relief through movement. Some people jerk their legs at night, and since you can feel it lying in bed, it can disrupt sleep and make you tired during the day. It affects twice as many women as men and up to 15% of the population. A quarter of pregnant women get it but it usually goes away four weeks after giving birth.

There are various patterns to RLS. It runs strongly in the family. For many it starts at a young age and gradually gets worse. For others it begins abruptly at 40 and remains an occasional irritation. How bad it is depends on how strong your symptoms are, how easily they improve if you move around and how much your sleep is disturbed. So is there anything that can help and when should you try to get assistance?

The Solution

If your symptoms are severe, ruin most evenings and disrupt sleep, see your doctor. You should also seek advice if it starts suddenly, as it can be linked to other conditions that need treatment such as heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, iron deficiency, poor circulation or nervous-system disorders.

Some drugs can trigger RLS, such as antihistamines and antidepressants, but you should discuss the effect of any medicines with your doctor before coming off them. Alcohol and tobacco may also trigger it.

Remedies include simply moving your legs to doing regular daytime exercise. Drugs that increase dopamine reduce symptoms but can make you feel sick. Some doctors will suggest you take strong painkillers or a course of sleeping tablets. Another drug called gabapentin also helps, according to a recent review in the BMJ.

Whatever you try, you should first avoid coffee and alcohol in the evening, and gradually wind down before turning the light off. These simple steps can help make the discomfort less severe.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.


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