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If you are like 10% of the adults in this country, you are having trouble getting the sleep you need, waking up as tired as you were when you went to bed, and probably unaware of why.  For many people like this, the answer isn’t sleep apnea or a lumpy mattress.  It is Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), a sleep disorder that disrupts sleep and can have a very real impact on your health and all areas of your life.

Getting the word out about RLS is the primary focus of RLS Awareness Week which occurs during the third week of September.  Support organizations along with those who live with the disorder will be educating others and raising money for research into new treatment options and hopefully a cure.

 

RLS 101

Restless Leg Syndrome is characterized by the overwhelming need to move the legs when lying down or trying to rest.  It is a neurological disorder that can also cause unusual and often unpleasant sensations in the affected limbs.  Some people with the condition report feeling like their skin is crawling or being pulled.   Although the most commonly affected limbs are the legs, the condition can affect other limbs as well including the arms, torso, and face.  Sleep is disrupted both by the sensations and by the need to move the impacted limbs.

Most symptoms are experienced when the person is not moving and symptoms can be most severe when lying still.  This is another reason the disorder can be so disruptive to sleep.  Movement of the limbs is the most common way to get temporary relief from the symptoms but once the movement stops, the urge to move and the unpleasant sensations are likely to return.

RLS is difficult to diagnose as most people will be complaining of difficulty sleeping.  It is commonly misdiagnosed as depression and insomnia.   There is no specific age associated with the onset of the disorder or when it is most prevalent.  However, symptoms seem to be worse for those who are older.   There is a strong genetic component to RLS and researchers recently identified the first RLS gene which can be found in about half of all cases.

 

Causes and Symptoms

It is unclear what causes RLS, but current research suggests it may be hereditary.  Most of those diagnosed with the disorder are in their middle years.  Researchers believe there may be some factors that are more likely to trigger the onset of the disorder including certain medications, low iron in the blood, and sleep deprivation, but more research needs to be done in order to prove a conclusive relationship between these events and the onset of the condition.

The most common symptoms are the unexplained and irresistible need to move the affected limbs and the presence of the unpleasant sensations mentioned above.  Many of those with RLS also have another sleep disorder called Periodic Limb Movement of Sleep (PLMS) which causes the limbs to move involuntarily every 15-40 seconds during sleep.  Although these movements aren’t generally enough to wake the person up every time, they do disrupt their sleep.

 

Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure for RLS at this time.  It can be managed through medication, lifestyle changes, or a combination of both.

 

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