Have you ever been lying in your bunk at night trying to fall asleep and you suddenly feel the urge to move your legs continuously. If you answered ‘yes’ than this article may apply to you.
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a neurological condition that is characterized by the irresistible urge to move the legs while you are sitting or lying down. RLS affects both sexes, can begin at any age and may worsen as you get older.
The symptoms of RLS are very wide-ranging. People typically describe symptoms as an unpleasant sensation in their calves, thighs and feet. Commonly, patients describe the feeling as tingling, burning, aching, crawling and/or creeping.
Although it is often difficult to describe this condition, there are a few characteristic signs and symptoms. Firstly, the sensations usually begin during inactivity when you are lying down or sitting for an extended period of time. In addition, the sensations of RLS are relieved by movements such as stretching, walking, and jiggling the legs. It is this desire to move that gives RLS its name. Another common characteristic is that the symptoms seem to worsen in the evening. As a result, many people with RLS find it difficult to fall asleep or to stay asleep.
The exact cause of RLS is still unknown. However, researchers suspect the conditions may be due to an imbalance of the brain chemical dopamine. This is the chemical that sends the messages to control muscle movements. There seems to be a hereditary component to this condition as researchers have identified sites on the chromosomes where genes for RLS may be present.
Many people with RLS never seek medical help because they worry that they will not be able to describe the symptoms accurately. Although there is no blood or lab test specifically for diagnosing RLS, your doctor may order one or both of these tests to rule out other possible conditions. Your doctor may also order a muscle or nerve study. If all of your tests come back clear, your doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist for more testing. At the sleep clinic, doctors will be able to observe your sleep habits closely and check for leg movements during sleep.
In some cases of RLS, treating an underlying condition, such as iron deficiency or peripheral neuropathy, can greatly relieve the symptoms. However, if you have RLS without any associated condition, treatment focuses on lifestyle changes, and, if those are not effective, medication. Lifestyle factors such as good sleep patterns, exercise and stress reduction are often very effective in the treatment of RLS. In addition, patients with RLS should avoid things such as caffeine, alcohol and tobacco as these chemicals seem to increase or aggravate the symptoms of RLS.
There are several prescription medications that are used to treat RLS, most of which were developed to treat other conditions. Your doctor may prescribe medications for Parkinson’s disease as these drugs reduce the amount of motion in your legs by affecting the level of the chemical messenger dopamine in the brain. Other medications such as muscle relaxants and sleep medications are also very common.
Although RLS is a fairly rare condition, professional truck drivers, due to their lifestyles on the road, are at greater risk of developing it. If you have any of the above mentioned symptoms, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.
– Dr. Chris Singh, B. Kin., D. C., runs Trans-Canada Chiropractic at 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont.
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