Restless Legs Syndrome Symptoms
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is common in the older population. In fact, the National Institute of Health says up to 35 percent of seniors have restless legs symptoms. RLS is an uncomfortable and restless condition that can cause you to have an involuntary urge to move your legs. The symptoms of restless legs often occur more at night, when you’re trying to rest. If you move your legs, the uncomfortable symptoms are likely to stop, but often return when your legs are still again. Because the condition is worse at night, your falling asleep and staying asleep is difficult, and this can have profound effects on your quality of life.
Restless legs symptoms
While the prime manifestation of restless legs syndrome is the urgency to move your legs, there are other symptoms as well. Some people even find it difficult to describe what they’re feeling. But, the following are typical characteristics of RLS:
Unpleasant sensations that start after you become still.
While this often happens more when you’re lying in bed trying to go to sleep or later in the evening, it can also occur when you’re sitting for a while. It’s not unusual for an attack of RLS symptoms to happen while you’re trying to watch television or when riding in the car for a while.
Relief of symptoms once you start moving again.
Movement tends to lessen the symptoms of RLS. If you stretch your legs, walk, or even gently shake your legs out, you might find that your symptoms go away temporarily.
Twitching of your legs.
Restless legs syndrome often causes twitching of your legs, particularly at night while you’re sleeping. Your spouse might comment that you’ve been inadvertently kicking them in your sleep.
Symptoms usually happen in both legs.
It’s unheard of that RLS discomfort only affects one side of the body. On rare occasions, you may have symptoms in your arms as well.
Insomnia becomes common with RLS.
Because symptoms disturb sleep, RLS patients often get trapped in a cycle of insomnia. Even if you have a night without symptoms, you may dread the possibility of a recurrence of your symptoms.
The symptoms of RLS can be hard to describe. Many seniors describe them as unpleasant feelings deep within in their feet and legs. The overriding feeling is that you have to move your legs. The sensations have also been described as:
You could have minor symptoms or none at all one day and severe symptoms the next. Your RLS symptoms could also go away for a while but are ultimately likely to come back.
Unfortunately, many seniors wait a long time before asking a doctor about their symptoms. If you have any of the symptoms associated with RLS, speak with your physician as soon as possible to reduce the burden it has on your life.
Risk factors and causes of restless legs in seniors
While there is no known direct cause of restless legs, the condition can occur as a by-product of other health conditions. Some of them are:
Iron-deficiency anemia is one of the more common conditions that can cause restless legs symptoms. If your blood counts are low, your blood doesn’t circulate oxygen as well throughout your body. This can lead to RLS discomfort.
This condition is also a top leading cause of RLS symptoms. In peripheral neuropathy, the nerves that send messages to your brain are weakened and damaged. Peripheral neuropathy is common in seniors and often results from diabetes and B12 deficiencies.
People who have kidney dysfunction or disease are predisposed to getting RLS symptoms because waste products quickly build up in your body. Kidney disease makes it harder for your body to clean your blood, maintain healthy blood pressure, and keep extra fluid out of your blood. It can also affect blood cell production and vitamin metabolism.
Imbalance of dopamine in the brain:
Increasing evidence shows that dopamine levels fall at the end of the day, just when it’s time to rest. Dopamine is the messenger between your nervous system and your brain and helps to coordinate movement in your body.
Many factors in liver disease make RLS a common occurrence. Liver disease patients often have lower iron levels, low B12 levels, and low folate. Electrolyte levels may also be altered. Also, a vitamin D deficiency and other conditions common with liver disease tend to induce more RLS symptoms.
Diabetics as a whole suffer from slower circulation in the body and damaged blood vessels. If you have diabetes, you’re more predisposed to getting RLS because of these effects.
Thyroid disease impacts how the hormones and bodily systems in your body work together. This is particularly true with hyperthyroidism, where your body works harder than it should due to increased thyroid hormones. This ofter results in iron deficiency and reduced dopamine.
Chronic venous insufficiency and varicose veins:
Up to 22% of people with RLS also suffer from chronic venous insufficiency to some extent. Some studies show that treating varicose veins and venous disease can improve RLS symptoms.
People with Parkinson’s are three times more likely to have leg restlessness when trying to sleep than those without Parkinson’s. However, it’s not clear why nor is it clear if it’s actual restless legs.
Low vitamin levels, such as B12, D, and folic acid:
Many people who have RLS find that when their vitamin levels are improved, their RLS symptoms go away or are improved.
Family history of RLS:
Genetics can also play a part in developing restless legs syndrome. If you have a close relative with the disease, you may be more likely to have the condition yourself.
If you are having symptoms that sound like RLS, ask your doctor if any of your medications could be causing it and if it’s possible to try a different remedy.
Finding relief for the symptoms of restless legs
There is currently no cure for restless legs syndrome. There are a few medications that are sometimes recommended to minimize the symptoms of RLS, but most doctors will only prescribe them if your symptoms are persistent and severe.
One of the first targeted approaches in relieving restless leg symptoms is to address any underlying medical conditions that can be causing your symptoms. Correcting nutritional deficiencies and staying on top of treating your health problems, such as diabetes and anemia, can offer drastic improvement in your RLS symptoms.
Also, ask your physician if any of your medications can be causing the unpleasant sensations you’re experiencing. Perhaps switching to an alternative medicine could help alleviate your symptoms.
Some foods and substances can cause RLS symptoms. In particular, refrain from caffeine, smoking, and alcohol because they are known to increase restless legs discomfort.
Your doctor may suggest that you go through some form of physical therapy to help improve your symptoms. There are many self-help measures you can do to try to improve your RLS.
- Taking a hot or cold bath or applying a hot or cold pack to the areas experiencing discomfort might help. Ask your doctor if it’s okay that you subject yourself to temperature extremes first.
- Massaging your limbs right before bedtime might help improve circulation in your legs and relieve some RLS symptoms.
- Exercising, stretching, or relaxation exercises may also help minimize RLS discomfort.
- Avoiding foods that cause your symptoms and substances like caffeine, smoking, and alcohol can help improve restless legs discomfort.
- Improving your sleep hygiene could ward off RLS symptoms. Insomnia, or lack of sleep, interrupts your sleep pattern and can make restless legs worse. Go to sleep at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning. A regular sleep pattern could help improve matters for your RLS. Avoid keeping the television on while trying to rest and make sure your bedroom is dark and cool as prickly heat can make RLS symptoms worse.
- Circulation-boosting products are readily available to improve circulation when a health condition, such as diabetes, prevents your body from doing it on its own.
Restless legs syndrome and its associated symptoms can make you miserable. However, there may be some things you can do to improve the condition and the effects it has on your body.
It’s vital to address RLS if you have it because it can significantly impact your sleep and your life.
See your physician if you have restless legs symptoms.
RLS can make it seem like the end of a good night’s sleep. But there is hope. You deserve to be free of this debilitating condition and have a better night’s sleep.
Disclaimer: This content is not intended as medical advice. We simply believe in helping people to make informed decisions about their health. We hope to empower you to ask your physician the right questions so you can both agree on a treatment plan that’s right for you.
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