Restless legs give you an uncontrollable urge to move your legs. The feeling occurs when you are at rest. This mostly happens at night when you are sleeping, so when you lie down. You may also suffer from restless legs when you sit. Symptoms are reduced by moderate movement.
The unpleasant sensation of restless legs is most often felt in the calves. There can be a tingling, prickly, itching or a burning feeling or a painful stiffness in the deeper muscles. Some people experience it in their arms or in parts of the torso.
Restless legs is more common among the elderly and more prevalent in women than in men. Furthermore, it occurs in women during pregnancy. Family members often also have symptoms and in that case it is a hereditary disorder. Approximately 5 to 10 % of the population has to deal with restless legs.
This all may lead to severe insomnia which could be quite disruptive for daily life.
The condition is called restless legs syndrome (RLS). It is also known by the name Willis-Ekbom Disease (WED). Doctor Thomas Willis was the first to describe its symptoms in 1672.
Up to now there is no cure for this disease.
Restless legs syndrome can also be the result of another chronic disease, like for example diabetes, kidney diseases, thyroid diseases, Parkinson, varicose veins or arthritis. In that case it is called secondary RLS.
Symptoms may worsen by:
- Lack of exercise
- Medication (against depression, psychosis, nausea and allergies)
- Vitamin deficiencies like vitamin B12 and lack of iron and magnesium
Restless legs can have unpleasant consequences for daily life. Not sleeping well leads to fatigue, which may be the cause of a bad temper and having a short fuse to people around you. In more severe case it could become difficult to keep your life on track, at home or at work. You have trouble concentrating and little energy to get things done. Stress, depression or even burn out lie in wait. Maybe you also start to find it increasingly hard to participate in social activities.
Sleep deprivation is detrimental for several physical processes. During sleep you recover from daily activities. A chronic lack of sleep possibly leads to disruption of for example your digestive system. Your resistance may become lower, so you will easier develop the flu or something else. It also impedes your capacity to heal in such cases. You may enter a vicious circle.
Fortunately, not everyone suffers in the same degree from restless legs. Worst case scenario it can be necessary though to break the downward spiral by means of medication.