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More Information About Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) or Willis-Ekbom disease is a neurological disorder characterized by an irresistible urge to move one's body to stop uncomfortable or odd sensations. It most commonly affects the legs, but can affect the arms, torso, and even phantom limbs. Moving the affected body part modulates the sensations, providing temporary relief.

RLS sensations can most closely be compared to an itching or tickling in the muscles, like "an itch you can't scratch" or an unpleasant "tickle that won't stop." The sensations typically begin or intensify during quiet wakefulness, such as when relaxing, reading, studying, or trying to sleep. In addition, most individuals with RLS have limb jerking during sleep, which is an objective physiologic marker of the disorder and is associated with sleep disruption. Some controversy surrounds the marketing of drug treatments for RLS. It is a "spectrum" disease with some people experiencing only a minor annoyance and others experiencing major disruption of sleep and significant impairments in quality of life.

The sensations—and the need to move—may return immediately after ceasing movement or at a later time. RLS may start at any age, including childhood, and is a progressive disease for some, while the symptoms may remit in others. In a survey among members of the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation it was found that up to 45% of patients had their first symptoms before the age of 20 years.

"An urge to move, usually due to uncomfortable sensations that occur primarily in the legs, but occasionally in the arms or elsewhere."

The sensations are unusual and unlike other common sensations. Those with RLS have a hard time describing them, using words like: uncomfortable, 'antsy', electrical, creeping, painful, itching, pins and needles, pulling, creepy-crawly, ants inside the legs and numbness. It is sometimes described similar to a limb 'falling asleep'. The sensation and the urge can occur in any body part; the most cited location is legs, followed by arms. Some people have little or no sensation, yet still have a strong urge to move.

"Motor restlessness, expressed as activity, which relieves the urge to move."

Movement usually brings immediate relief, although temporary and partial. Walking is most common; however, stretching, yoga, biking, or other physical activity may relieve the symptoms. Continuous, fast up-and-down movements of the leg, and/or rapidly moving the legs toward then away from each other, may keep sensations at bay without having to walk. Specific movements may be unique to each person.

"Worsening of symptoms by relaxation."

Sitting or lying down (reading, plane ride, watching TV) can trigger the sensations and urge to move. Severity depends on the severity of the person’s RLS, the degree of restfulness, duration of the inactivity, etc.

"Variability over the course of the day-night cycle, with symptoms worse in the evening and early in the night."

Some experience RLS only at bedtime, while others experience it throughout the day and night. Most sufferers experience the worst symptoms in the evening and the least in the morning.

"Restless legs feel similar to the urge to yawn, situated in the legs or arms." These symptoms of RLS can make sleeping difficult for many patients and a recent poll shows the presence of significant daytime difficulties resulting from this condition. These problems range from being late for work, and missing work or events because of drowsiness. Patients with RLS who responded reported driving while drowsy more than patients without RLS. These daytime difficulties can translate into safety, social and economic issues for the patient and for society.

Wikipedia - Restless Legs
Wikipedia's entry on restless legs syndrome.

NINDS Article on Restless Legs Syndrome
An article from National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

NYU School of Medicine
An short article from the New York School of Medicine Sleep Disorders Center.

Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic's restless legs syndrome page.

Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation
Since its inception, the Foundation has been working tirelessly to increase awareness of this disease by raising its profile and educating the public and medical communities alike. The RLS Foundation is spreading the word about RLS--a serious, yet treatable condition with a very significant impact on quality of life. By educating healthcare providers about RLS symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment, the RLS Foundation helps patients receive the quality care they both need and deserve.
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