Restless leg syndrome – adopt lifestyle changes to reduce risk

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Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a troublesome condition difficult to manage. People describe it as having a strong urge to move your legs (medically known as akathisia) with uncomfortable sensations of tingling, bubbling or crawling beneath the skin usually in the calves of the legs. The symptoms become worse when resting and are often worse during the night when lying down.  Moving, such as walking or stretching, usually helps relieve symptoms.  This movement disorder affects3-15% of the general population and can occur in both children and adults.

Causes of RLS

The cause of RLS is unknown – however researchers are looking into problems with the nervous system possibly arising from the spinal cord or brain.   A possible theory suggested has been low levels of the brain chemical dopamine causing RLS.  Other causes that may be associated with RLS development include the following:

·         Family history

Up to two-thirds of people with RLS have a family history of the disorder.  RLS occurring before age 40 is usually associated with a family history whereas if RLS begins after age 40 are less likely to have a family history. 

·         Anxiety disorders

Suffering from anxiety can cause RLS during the night.

·         Kidney dialysis

People undergoing kidney dialysis often report problems with RLS – up to two-thirds.  Once

·         Pregnancy

RLS in pregnancy occurs in about 1 in 5 pregnant women.  There appears to be a link to deficiencies in iron and folate and RLS in pregnancy.  The condition usually goes away within a month of delivery.

·         Osteoarthritis

RLS occurs in about three-quarters of people with osteoarthritis.  

·         Diabetes

People with type 2 diabetes may experience RLS possibly due to nerve pain or neuropathy related to diabetes.

Environmental, dietary factors, and medications that may cause RLS

Several environmental, dietary factors and medications could be to blame for RLS.   Environmental factors can include stress, prolonged exposure to cold or fatigue.  Dietary factors might be deficiencies of iron, folate, magnesium or too much caffeine.  Medications possibly provoking RLS could be antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, anti-nausea drugs, diuretics, asthma medications, antihistamines and oral decongestants.

Adopt lifestyle changes to treat RLS

The goal of treating RLS is to improve sleep and eliminate the causes of RLS without the use of drugs.  A physician should first rule out any underlying medical condition that could be causing RLS. If a medication is the culprit for RLS, an alternative medication should be used instead.

Adopting certain lifestyle changes may not completely eliminate RLS but they could at least reduce the incidence and severity of the condition and are worth a try.  The following suggestions are what people with RLS have reported to have helped them to see improvement in  the unwanted movements:

·         Stopping smoking

·         Taking a hot bath or using cold compresses

·         Exercising most days of the week

·         Stretching the calf muscles before bedtime

·         Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine

·         Checking to see if you are iron deficient as RLS is associated with this condition.  Choose food sources rich in iron daily.

·         Consuming adequate magnesium as it helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function. 

·         Consuming plenty of folate and vitamin B12.  These nutrients are associated with diabetic neuropathy a condition that may trigger RLS.