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Other possible characteristics include:
WHAT CAUSES IT?
Although the cause in unknown in most cases, certain factors may be associated with RLS:
WHO GETS RLS?
RLS occurs in both sexes. Symptoms can begin at any time but are usually more common and more severe among older people. Young people who experience symptoms of RLS are sometimes thought to have "growing pains" or may be considered "hyperactive" because they cannot easily sit still in school.
HOW IS IT DIAGNOSED?
There is no laboratory test that can make a diagnosis of RLS. When someone with RLS goes to see a doctor, there is usually nothing abnormal the doctor can see or detect on examination. Diagnosis therefore depends on what a person describes to the doctor. The history usually includes a description of the typical leg sensations that lead to an urge to move the legs or walk. These sensations are noted to worsen when the legs are at rest, such as, when sitting or lying down and during the evening and night. The person with RLS may complain about trouble sleeping or daytime sleepiness, and in some cases the bed partner will complain about the person's leg movements and jerking during the night.
To help make a diagnosis, the doctor may ask about all current and past medical problems, family history and current medications. A complete physical and neurological exam may help identify other conditions that can be associated with RLS, such as nerve damage (neuropathy or a pinched nerve) or abnormalities in the blood vessels. Basic laboratory tests may be done to assess general health and rule out anemia. Further studies depend on initial findings. In some instances, a doctor may suggest an overnight sleep study to determine whether PLMS or other sleep problems are present. In most people with RLS, no new medical problem will be discovered during the physical exam or on any other tests, except the sleep study, which will detect PLMS if present.
HOW IS IT TREATED?
In mild cases of RLS, some people find that activities such as taking a hot bath, massaging the legs, using a heating pad or ice pack, exercising and eliminating caffeine may help alleviate the symptoms. In more severe cases, medications are prescribed to control symptoms. Unfortunately, no single drug is effective for everyone with RLS. Individuals respond differently to medications based on the severity of symptoms, other medical conditions and other medications being taken. A medication that is initially found to be effective may lose its effectiveness with nightly use, thus it may be necessary to alternate between different categories of medication in order to keep symptoms under control.
Although many different drugs may help RLS, the most commonly used are found in the following three categories:
Although there is some potential for benzodiazepines and opioids to become habit forming, this usually does not occur with the dosages given to most RLS patients.
A non-drug approach called transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS) may improve symptoms in some RLS sufferers who also have PLMS. The electrical stimulation is applied to an area of the legs or feet, usually before bedtime, for 15 to 30 minutes. This approach has been shown to be helpful in reducing nighttime leg jerking.
Due to recent advances, doctors today have a variety of means for treating RLS. However, no perfect treatment exists and there is much more to be learned about the treatments that currently seem to be successful.
The information provided is courtesy of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research within the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health. For additional information on RLS visit the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation web site at www.RLS.org