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Restless legs syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder which creates an unpleasant sensation in the legs, coupled with an overwhelming urge to move them to relieve the discomfort. Symptoms tend to be worse at night time, impacting on sleep. For this reason, RLS is also categorised as a sleep disorder. Flow on effects caused by sleep deprivation can seriously impact quality of life. RLS is often a lifelong condition, for which there is no cure.
There are several possible causes. Low levels of iron in the brain may cause restless leg syndrome. It may also have a genetic component. There is strong evidence to indicate that RLS is caused by a malfunction in the dopamine pathways within the brain, dopamine being a neurotransmitter essential for smooth muscle movement. Parkinson’s disease is another disorder of these pathways which results in movement difficulties, with many sufferers also experiencing RLS.
When restless leg syndrome results from another condition, treating the condition may bring relief. Magnesium or iron supplementation can help when a deficiency of either is a contributing factor. Magnesium is a well-known muscle relaxant, while iron plays a role in neurological functioning. Drugs that increase dopamine levels in the brain (Dopaminergic agents) can be effective in treating the symptoms of RLS, although only in the short term. Benzodiazepines and opioids can bring relief and sleep, but must be used with caution due to their addictive potential. Anti-convulsants can help diminish the unpleasant sensory disturbances. A vibrating pad called Relaxis is a non-drug solution that provides counter stimulation, distracting from the sensations of RLS.

• Restless legs syndrome may affect up to 10% of the population
• 33% of people with fibromyalgia also suffer from RLS
• It affects twice as many women as men
• RLS can begin at any age, even affecting children
• Pregnancy can cause RLS, especially the last trimester. The condition will generally subside within a month of delivery
• Symptoms often lessen in the early morning hours, allowing for better sleep at this time
• RLS can generally be treated successfully, improving quality of life

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