Restless legs syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease (WED), is a common condition affecting the nervous system in which the patient have an uncontrollable urge to move the legs, usually due to discomfort in the feet, calves and thighs. It typically happens in the evenings or nights while the person is sitting or lying down. Due to this, it can disrupt sleep and make traveling difficult. It can begin at any age and generally worsens as you age. Some people have symptoms now and again, while others have them every day.
The main symptom is the compelling desire to move. Sometimes the sensations seem to defy description. Affected people usually do not describe the condition as a muscle cramp or numbness. They do, however, consistently describe the desire to move their legs. Common characteristics of RLS signs and symptoms include:
- Sensation starts after being at rest;
- Relief by movement;
- Worsening of symptoms in the evening;
- Nighttime leg twitching.
The sensations, which generally occur within the limb rather than on the skin, are described as: crawling, creeping, pulling, throbbing, aching and itching. The characteristic nighttime worsening of symptoms in persons with restless legs syndrome frequency leads to insomnia. Because of lack of sleep, children and some adults may be very drowsy, irritable, and aggressive during daytime hours.
The cause of restless leg syndrome is unknown in most people. Researchers suspect the condition may be due to an imbalance of the brain chemical dopamine, which sends messages to control muscle movement. However, restless leg syndrome has been associated with pregnancy, obesity, smoking, iron deficiency and anemia, nerve disease, polyneuropathy, diabetes, and kidney failure.
Occasionally, restless leg syndrome runs in families. Recent studies have shown that restless leg syndrome appears to become more common as a person ages. Also, poor venous circulation of the legs can cause restless leg syndrome.
RLS can develop at any age. However, the disorder is more common with increasing age and more common in women than in men. It usually is not related to a serious underlying medical problem. However, RLS sometimes accompanies other conditions, such as:
- Peripheral neuropathy;
- Iron deficiency or
- Kidney failure
Although RLS does not lead to other serious conditions, symptoms can range from barely bothersome to incapacitating. Many people with RLS find it difficult to fall or stay asleep. Severe RLS can even cause marked impairment in life quality and can result in depression. Insomnia may lead to excessive daytime drowsiness, but RLS may prevent a person from daytime napping.