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Thursday, March 4, 2010

What is Restless Leg Syndrome?

Imagine lying down at night, trying to get some rest, but feeling a distinct urge to move. It could be just a tickle, or perhaps an itch, but it won’t go away, no matter how hard you work to ignore it. In fact, the only way to get rid of the feeling is to move.

Approximately 12 million Americans are affected by a mysterious condition called Restless Limb Syndrome. This neurological condition causes the affected person to experience strong sensations of needing to move the limbs, sensations characterized by an itching, creeping, creepy-crawly, tugging, or gnawing feeling. These abnormal sensations can range from being merely uncomfortable to terribly irritating to painful. The only relief available is to move the affected limb. But this is only a temporary solution, for although the irritation stops when the limb is in motion, it begins again as soon as the affected person attempts to stay still.

Many people affected by Restless Limb Syndrome are embarrassed by their problem, and are afraid that a doctor would not believe their description of the symptoms. But Restless Leg Syndrome is a very real neurological problem that is not only irritating, but also can greatly reduce the quality of life.

There are four basic characteristics required for diagnosis.

A strong, almost irresistible urge to move the legs (or other limbs) that is characterized by an odd itching, pulling, creeping, tugging, gnawing, or creep-crawly sensation. The symptoms start or become worse when resting. The longer the period of rest, the more severe the symptoms. The symptoms are reduced or alleviated by movement. This relief begins shortly after beginning to move, but returns shortly after movement is ceased. The symptoms are worse in the evening. Often activities or positions that cause difficulty at night are not a problem during the day.

While there are no specific tests to diagnose Restless Limb Syndrome, it is possible for a doctor to make a diagnosis from a combination of the patient’s description of the condition and a sleep analysis. Additionally the doctor will likely take a series of blood tests to rule out other conditions which may cause similar symptoms.

Many times an underlying condition can be found to explain the syndrome. Some conditions that can cause Restless Leg Syndrome include anemia, late term pregnancy, low iron, kidney failure, Parkinson’s, and diabetes. When such causes are found and treated, the Restless Leg Syndrome usually goes away on its own. Unfortunately, not all cases have such a simple solution. In fact, it appears that at least 50% of cases of Restless Leg Syndrome are genetic.

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