The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines restless leg syndrome as “a disorder in which there is an urge or need to move the legs to stop unpleasant sensations.” The patient will feel discomfort if she keeps her legs still. Found more often in women than men, restless leg syndrome occurs in middle age to older adults. Stress and emotional upset will also exacerbate the symptoms.
While the cause of restless leg syndrome is unknown, the NIH notes that it occurs more often in women who are pregnant, or patients with peripheral neuropathy, iron deficiency, chronic kidney disease, and Parkinson's disease. However, one form of restless leg syndrome is genetic and can be passed down through families, though the mutated gene has not been identified.
Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome
The Mayo Clinic states that patients with restless leg syndrome experience strange sensations in their legs and sometimes arms; these sensations have been described as “crawling, tingling, cramping, creeping, pulling, painful, electric, tense, uncomfortable, itchy, tugging, gnawing, aching or burning.” These symptoms can become worse with inactivity and at night, and decrease in severity when the patient is active. Restless leg syndrome is also associated with periodic limb syndrome, which the Mayo Clinic describes as an involuntary movement of the legs, either flexing or extending during sleep.
Effect on Sleep and Treatments
One of the issues with restless leg syndrome is disrupted sleep. Since the patient will feel the urge to move even when asleep, this will result in a decreased quality of sleep. Over time, the sleep problems can escalate to insomnia.
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