Understanding Restless Legs Syndrome

By July 25, 2014Healthy Aging

As the name suggests, restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a condition that makes your legs feel extremely uncomfortable. It can begin at any age and grows progressively worse as you age. For most people, the legs are at their worst in the evenings, particularly while sitting or lying in bed. The “restless” feelings associated with the condition make most people get up and walk around. Moving is the one activity that offers temporary relief of RLS symptoms.


In many cases, there is no known cause for RLS. Modern researchers tend to believe the condition is brought on by an imbalance of dopamine, a neurotransmitter chemical found in the brain. Other cases, however, can be traced back to a specific cause. Those include:

  • Heredity
  • Pregnancy
  • Related Medical Conditions

Dual Diagnosis

RLS is sometimes diagnosed with additional conditions, such as:

  • Peripheral neuropathy: Nerve damage in the hands and feet can be caused by chronic diseases like diabetes and alcoholism.
  • Iron deficiency: When the body is deprived of enough iron, the resulting iron deficiency can cause or worsen RLS.
  • Kidney failure: Iron deficiency and kidney failure often go hand-in-hand. When the kidneys are unable to function properly, iron in the blood decreases. The resulting changes in body chemistry can cause or worsen the symptoms of RLS.

Commonly Described Sensations

What does restless legs syndrome feel like? Most people describe the symptoms as abnormal, unpleasant sensations that are localized to the calf muscles. Other descriptive RLS sensations include:

  • Crawling
  • Creeping
  • Pulling
  • Throbbing
  • Itching
  • Pain
  • Tugging
  • Gnawing
  • Burning

Commonly Reported Patterns

Common RLS indicators are:

  • Triggers: Onset of uncomfortable sensations begins after periods of inactivity, such as sitting in a car or traveling by airplane.
  • Timing: During the day, leg symptoms are either non-existent or extremely mild. At night, however, symptoms and discomfort peaks.
  • Secondary conditions: The presence of another associated condition called periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) is fairly common among RLS patients. PLMD causes the legs to involuntarily flex and contract, then extend and retract. All this movement goes on while you are sleeping. Many seniors experience hundreds of twitching and kicking movements throughout the night. PLMD is common in older adults, even without RLS, and doesn’t always disrupt sleep.

Image Credit – http://www.ncc-ccn.gc.ca/sites/default/files/imagecache/image-full/uploads/activity/images/bigstock_Elderly_Couple_Picnicking_In__13798364.jpg

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