Restless Legs Syndrome

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Restless leg syndrome, also referred to as Willis-Ekbom disease, is characterized by an uncontrollable urge to move the legs. Symptoms of restless leg syndrome include:

  • Uncontrollable urge to move the legs
  • Uncomfortable sensations in the legs, such as: tingling, itching, burning or throbbing
  • Painful cramps in the legs, especially in the calves.

The sensations can also affect the chest, arms, and face. They can be mild or severe, and are usually worse during the night and in the evening. Often times, these symptoms can be relieved by rubbing or moving the legs. Some people experience them daily, others occasionally. The condition can affect any person, although it is more common in women. The majority of cases are diagnosed in during midlife, but it can begin as early as childhood. Restless leg syndrome is also associated with involuntary jerking of the arms and legs during sleep.


What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?

Evidence suggests that restless leg syndrome occurs due to a problem in the basal ganglia. This is a region located in the brain that utilizes dopamine in order to adequately control movement and muscle activity. If the cells within this region become damaged, dopamine levels in the brain drop, leading to muscle spasms and uncontrollable movements of the extremities. At the end of the day, dopamine levels naturally fall, which may account for the fact that the symptoms of this condition worsen during the evening and at nighttime.

Primary Restless Leg Syndrome: In the majority of cases, the exact cause of restless leg syndrome cannot be determined. This is called primary restless leg syndrome. Research has linked this primary form to specific genes that can be transmitted from parents to children. In such cases the symptoms of restless leg syndrome appear before the age of 40.

Secondary Restless Leg Syndrome Secondary restless leg syndrome is when the disease is caused by another underlying disease or health factor. Some conditions that can cause restless leg syndrome include:

  • Pregnancy – Symptoms usually occur during the last trimester and disappear a month after giving birth
  • Anemia  – Low Iron levels in the blood can cause low levels of dopamine and restless leg syndrome
  • Chronic conditions: Diabetes, fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s Disease, Chronic Kidney Failure, Hypothyroidism all are associated with restless leg syndrome
  • Chronic Venous Insufficiency – Chronic venous insufficiency is the most common cause of secondary restless leg syndrome


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