Restless legs syndrome, which you might have heard referred to as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a condition of the nervous system. RLS causes an overwhelming irresistible urge to move the legs. Express.co.uk reveals what causes the condition.
Restless legs syndrome
Restless legs syndrome is a condition that can start at any age and causes troubling symptoms.
The symptoms are mainly to do with your legs, but they can also affect your arms, chest and face.
While the condition is known for causing an urge to move your legs and an uncomfortable sensation, there are a number of other symptoms.
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According to the NHS, the sensation has been described as:
- tingling, burning, itching or throbbing
- a “creepy-crawly” feeling
- feeling like fizzy water is inside the blood vessels in the legs
- a painful cramping sensation in the legs, particularly in the calves
The pains happen on both sides of the body, normally in the legs and feet, and in the limb rather than on the skin.
People with the condition might experience symptoms occasionally, while others have them every day.
The condition can come at any age but once you’ve got it, it tends to get worse with age.
These unpleasant sensations can range from mild to unbearable and are usually worse in the evening and during the night.
This is because that’s when you’re mostly sitting or lying down, as well as during the day when you’re working or generally being inactive.
You may find it difficult to sit for long periods of time (for example, on a long train journey) and moving or exercising tends to ease the unpleasant feeling. Rubbing your legs may also help.
What causes RLS?
Unfortunately, the exact cause of restless legs syndrome is unknown.
However, some research has identified specific genes related to RLS and it can run in families.
Where it is genetic, symptoms normally occur before the age of 40.
Other evidence suggests that RLS is related to a problem with the basal ganglia – the part of the brain that uses dopamine to control muscle activity and movement.
Sometimes RLS occurs as a complication of another health condition and this is called secondary restless legs syndrome.
Typically this occurs if you have iron-deficiency anaemia, a long-term health condition like diabetes or Parkinson’s disease, or are pregnant.
Restless legs syndrome can be made worse by a number of triggers, including the following medications:
- some antidepressants
- lithium (used in the treatment of bipolar disorder)
- calcium channel blockers (used in the treatment of high blood pressure)
- some antihistamines
- metoclopramide (used to relieve nausea)
Other possible triggers are excessive smoking, caffeine or alcohol, being overweight or obese, stress and lack of exercise.
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