Q: What are limb movement disorders?
A: These are disorders of excessive movement during the night that are not explained by any other abnormality or medical condition. They include periodic limb movement disorder and restless legs syndrome (RLS), which is quite common.
Q: What are the symptoms of RLS?
A: The symptoms of RLS include unpleasant feelings in the limbs, especially in the calf muscles. They can occur in both legs and can also occasionally affect the arms. People with RLS usually report unpleasant sensations that they describe as being crawling, tingling, burning, and aching. These symptoms are made worse by rest and are helped by activity of the affected limb, although they often recur a few minutes after activity has ceased. People with RLS are unable to remain still, particularly in the evening or at night, and often have difficulty sleeping.
Q: How is RLS diagnosed?
A: Frequently, if a sleep study is performed, people who are suspected of having RLS are found to have repetitive regular leg movements that can disturb their sleep and leave them tired during the daytime. Often, however, the person is able to provide an accurate medical history that confirms the diagnosis of RLS.
Q: When does RLS occur?
A: RLS typically occurs at the end of the day when you relax or get into bed. It may also occur during the day if you are in a confining spot, such as a theater, plane seat, or on a long car ride.
Q: How common is RLS?
A: RLS affects more than 5 in 100 adults. In many people, it can start before the age of 20 years. However, RLS is more common with increasing age. Several large family studies have suggested that it tends to run in families. It can occur during pregnancy but usually ceases after delivery of the baby. RLS is present in about 50 percent of people with kidney failure on dialysis. It can also occur if there are low iron stores in the blood or a deficiency of folate (folic acid). RLS can be associated with other neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease . It can also occur in rheumatoid arthritis or if the thyroid gland is underactive. Some antidepressant medications can cause RLS, and it has also been reported in people with varicose veins in their legs.
Q: How is RLS treated?
A: RLS may be difficult to treat but usually responds well to medication and some general measures. The latter include relaxation techniques, massage of the limbs, and avoiding all stimulants, such as coffee, tea, cola, and over-the-counter decongestants. There are many medications that can be used in the treatment of RLS. However, not all of them work for every individual and might be effective for varying periods of time. Some of the more commonly used medications for RLS include: sedating medications such as the benzodiazepines, anti-Parkinsonian agents, analgesic (pain-killing) medications, and anticonvulsant drugs. Iron supplements may also help. Sometimes, medications become less effective with time and must be changed.
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