Restless leg syndrome is a common affliction characterised by uncomfortable feelings in the legs accompanied by an irresistible urge to move the legs to relieve the sensations.
People with restless leg syndrome often keep their legs moving by pacing or constantly moving their legs while sitting. The sensations commonly occur at night and have been described by patients as itching, throbbing, pulling, pins and needles or a creepy-crawly feeling. Onset of the sensations usually occur, or get worse, while the person is relaxed, sitting or lying down.
Restless leg syndrome is known to affect both males and females of any age but is more common in women and older individuals. Misdiagnosis is not unusual since the symptoms tend to come and go and may be quite mild.
In many cases of restless leg syndrome the cause is not known. However, it is thought to have a genetic link as many who experience restless leg syndrome have relatives who also experience the sensations.
Restless leg syndrome has been associated with some medical conditions including Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and peripheral neuropathy (any damage or disease of the nerves that impairs sensation, movement or gland function depending on which nerves are affected).
It can also be seen in those with iron deficiency or poor kidney function. Some women experience restless leg syndrome during pregnancy. Pregnant women who experience restless leg syndrome usually find the symptoms occur in the third trimester, with symptoms ceasing within four weeks of delivery.
Research has shown restless leg syndrome is likely related to dysfunction of neural circuits of the basal ganglia (a group of structures at the base of the brain with links to the area that controls movement), which uses the neurotransmitter dopamine.
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Dopamine is needed to control muscle activity for smooth, purposeful movement, so disruption of the dopamine pathways leads to involuntary movements. Parkinson’s disease is also a disorder of dopamine pathways of the basal ganglia and Parkinson’s patients often experience restless leg syndrome.
Individuals with chronic kidney failure, diabetes or peripheral neuropathy usually find relief from restless leg syndrome with treatment of the underlying condition.
Symptoms of restless leg syndrome may also be aggravated by certain medications. These include anti-nausea drugs, antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants and some cold and allergy medications that contain sedating antihistamines. The intake of alcohol or lack of good-quality sleep often triggers the condition.