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What is restless leg syndrome
It is a problem where you feel a significant discomfort in your limbs usually in the evening or when you are sleeping. People use a variety of words to talk about how it feels, for example :
- Pins and needles
- Pinchy and painful
It tends to affect the legs much more than the arms. When it happens, you feel a strong urge to move the affected limbs, after which the discomfort will go away. People may experience Restless leg syndrome when they sit for a long time such as at a desk, in a car, seeing a movie or travelling on a plane or even during sleep.
It can affect your ability to fall asleep or even wake you up during your sleep multiple times a night. As a result, you may end up with poor sleep. You may feel irritable, anxious and even depressed.
Fortunately, it is not a very common condition. About 2-5% of people are affected by it. Risks factors include :
- The risk increases with age and tends to be more serious in the elderly.
- Family history- if you parents have restless leg syndrome, then your chance of having it is 30-50%
Restless leg syndrome may be associated with other medical conditions such as
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Iron deficiency
- Kidney failure
- Spinal cord conditions
- Parkinson’s disease
It can also be associated with too much caffeine, smoking and alcohol.
Treatments for Restless leg Syndrome
Firstly, cut down on your caffeine, alcohol and nicotine intake. Some of the other ways to make your legs feel better includes a hot bath, a leg massage and plenty of exercise. Relaxation exercises such as yoga or tai chi can help too.
When you feel the discomfort, you can even walk or rub the discomfort away. Application of heat pad or ice pack may help.
In serious cases, it may be worthwhile to go to your doctor and get some tests done to exclude conditions such as iron deficiency, kidney failure, or other forms of peripheral neuropathies like diabetes or some vitamin deficiencies. If underlying deficiencies are detected, then supplementations may help the conditions.
When your symptoms are severe, doctors who are trained in sleep disorders may prescribe you medications to relieve your symptoms.
Firstly, dopamine agonists can be used to reduce the frequency and severity of the symptoms. Some examples include ropinirole and pramipexole. These are the same drugs we sometimes use to treat Parkinson.
Secondly, opiate containing painkillers such as codeine may be prescribed to relieve pain associated with restless leg syndrome. Gabapentin and pregabalin can occasionally be used too.
And lastly, if the condition is affecting your sleep badly, then sometimes a short course of sleeping pills may be recommended.
Restless leg syndrome may not be very common, neither is it a danger to our life. But it is a problem that may affect our wellbeing and mental wellness. So recognise the symptoms and seek treatment if it is affecting you badly.
By : Dr Chen Yiming
Family Physician, MBBS (Singapore), GDFM (NUS), GDFP Dermatology (NUS)