Small shakes and shocks, itching and tingling, the need to move the legs: these are the main symptoms of the “restless leg syndrome”, a neurological disorder that affects women in particular and manifests itself especially at the end of the day or at night.

Dr. Lara Fratticci, a neurologist at Humanitas, talked about it in an interview.

The causes of this disorder

Among the main causes of this disease is the physiological decline of dopamine, a neurotransmitter whose levels are lowered especially in the evening, causing the symptoms indicated: “The dopaminergic system under the cerebral cortex is formed by neurons that control movement – explained the doctor -, a dysfunction sends erroneous signals to the muscles causing restlessness and discomfort and discomfort in the lower limbs.

This is why we need to move and take a few steps to stretch our legs.

The drop in dopamine occurs especially in the evening and night hours, thus preventing “difficulties in falling asleep or even interrupting sleep”. “Those who suffer from this syndrome also tend to be affected by insomnia because restlessness in the lower limbs is only relieved by movement, forcing the patient to get out of bed and thus affecting the quality of sleep at night,” added Dr. Fratticci.

Restless’ legs syndrome: two forms of the same disease

There are two forms of this syndrome, known as the primary or secondary form. In the first case, the syndrome is “familiar or idiopathic and the cause of the syndrome is therefore unknown” and “generally occurs around 40 years”.

The secondary form has a “later” onset and is “associated with other diseases, disorders or conditions, such as iron deficiency, renal failure, type 2 diabetes, peripheral neuropathies such as those related to uraemia and diabetes and alterations of the extrapyramidal system such as spinal cord injury but also hormonal changes such as menopause, pregnancy (especially in the third trimester) and finally neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.

Diagnosis and treatment

No instrumental or invasive examinations are required to diagnose this syndrome, but clinical observation of the symptoms by the neurologist is sufficient.

As for the treatment, “it depends a lot on the extent and frequency of symptoms and discomforts: in some vessels it is enough to act on the lifestyle, improving the quality of sleep, such as lying down and waking up at regular times, engaging in relaxing activities and reducing the intake of exciting substances before sleep”, said the neurologist of Humanitas.

When these precautions are not enough in everyday life, we move on to drug therapy: “among the most widely used medicines there are the unicyclists and anticonvulsants”.