In today's video segment, I'd like to talk about a disorder known as restless limb syndrome, more commonly known as restless leg syndrome. This is a disorder that is manifest by an irresistible urge to move, and it can be any part of your body, not just the legs. Most commonly, however, it involves the movement of your feet or ankles. This can be as subtle as the wiggling of your toes, flip flopping or tapping of your feet, or just this general urge to move any part of your body.
This is a disorder that occurs primarily when you are at rest such as sitting in a chair, in your car, at your desk, on a plane or a train, or most commonly while you are lying in bed prior to falling asleep. This disorder occurs most often in the early evening hours compared to the daytime hours. It is often but not always associated with some kind of an unpleasant sensation in the extremity. This can range from anything from pain or discomfort, to numbness, tingling, burning, creepy crawly sensation like bugs on the skin, or just this irresistible urge to move or a sensation of restlessness.
Movement of the affected part of your body will offer you at least temporary relief. Often times a friend of family member will have commented to you in your life to “please sit still” or “why can’t you just stop doing that?” Patients, on the other hand, are often oblivious to their movements. If the situation occurs where the friend of family member has pointed this out to you and you’re oblivious to it or it doesn’t physically bother you, unless you have a complaint about it or are not sleeping well, then nothing needs to be done. However, many patients with restless limbs also have a disorder known as periodic limb movements during sleep. This can be, again, a very subtle movement like a toe moving like that your partner won’t notice or complain about it. You’re asleep, you aren’t going to know about it, but it can cause awakenings from sleep, disrupting your sleep, leading to a complaint of daytime sleepiness.
This disorder is more common in women and often runs in families. So you may have brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, or children, who have this disorder as well. There are over 125 known causes for restless limb syndrome. About half the patients who have restless limbs have what are known as primary restless limb syndrome where we don’t know what causes it. In the other half we can often find the underlying cause. A simple blood test may be all that is necessary to make a diagnosis for the secondary cause of the restless limbs. Sometimes correcting the secondary causes will correct the underlying disorder. However, in other patients, they still have abnormal blood tests which we can correct, but they will still have restless limbs because they actually have primary restless limbs.
There are several classes of medications that are available for the treatments of restless limbs. In part two of my series on restless limbs, you'll learn about the various treatment options that are available to you. So, if you have symptoms that are suggestive of restless limbs, please check with your primary care physician or see a board certified sleep specialist at an accredited sleep center for a thorough evaluation and the management of RLS.
Dr. Popper is available at (805) 557-9930 to answer any questions you have regarding diagnosis and treatment of all sleep disorders, including OSA, restless limb syndrome, insomnia, and others.
Watch the video above, and then Click Here to learn more about diagnosis and treatment of RLS.