In the same way that there are very calm and relaxed people, there are those who are very active and seem to need to be always on the go. But there are some people within the latter group who suffer it to a pathological degree: those who suffer from the so-called restless legs syndrome (RLS).
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This syndrome is a sensory and motor impairment characterized by a compelling need to move your legs. It is usually caused or accompanied by unpleasant sensations of pain or discomfort in those extremities – and sometimes also in the arms – when the person is sitting or lying down.
Those who experience such feelings of discomfort often have difficulty defining them. They often use expressions such as burning, bubbling, tightness, pressure (“as if my bones or tendons were stretched or squeezed“), nervousness, restlessness or restlessness.
This is explained by a guide to Diagnostic and therapeutic recommendations‘on RLS published in 2013 by the Study Group of the Spanish Neurology Society and the Spanish Sleep Society.
These symptoms disappear, or are at least noticeably relieved, when the person stands up and walks or when the legs are moved or stretched. However, they can respawn immediately when the movement is interrupted, or very soon after.
The other feature of the SPI is its circadian rhythm, that is, the fact that symptoms almost always appear at the same times of the day: generally in the afternoon, and especially towards evening.
How many people suffer from restless legs and why?
Although not widely known, this problem was identified three centuries ago and a half: the English physician Thomas Willis described it as early as 1672. However, it was only in 1945 that the Swede Karl-Axel Ekbom coined the expression restless legs and the syndrome began to be treated more seriously. This is why it is also known as “Willis-Ekbom disease.”
The studies indicate that RLS affects around 5% of the European population, and that in 3% the impact on quality of life is moderate or significant. The problem generally afflicts people in the second half of life (over 40 years) and more women than men.
Its causes are unclear, but one of the main risk factor’s is genetics: according to the prestigious MSD Manual, “a third or more of people with RLS have relatives with the same syndrome.” In these cases, its onset is usually earlier: around twenty years of age.
The same source cites other associated factors, such as a sedentary lifestyle, smoking and obesity. In addition, the appearance of RLS is more likely in pregnant women and in people who:
- They have stopped taking certain medications. Among them, diazepam and other benzodiazepines.
- They take antidepressants or stimulants, both caffeine and drugs or other substances.
- Have anemia or iron deficiency, magnesium or folic acid.
- They have a severe kidney or liver disorder, diabetes, or neurological disorders such as peripheral neuropathy, multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson’s.
This is how the syndrome affects quality of life
As mentioned, the quality of life of people with RLS is often severely affected. In addition to the discomfort itself, they may have problems in your academic performance or in your work life, due to difficulties in keeping still during classes or meetings.
Those problems can also alter your ability to travel by car, plane or other means of transport that require passengers to sit for long periods. Some aspects of social life (dining out, going to the theater or movies, etc.) can also be hampered for the same reason.
The effects are also noticeable in sleep: those who suffer from the syndrome have significant difficulties sleeping. In fact, most people with RLS also have limb movement disorder, which consists of repeatedly moving legs and arms during sleep.
The aforementioned guide of Spanish experts points out that many nights those who suffer from the syndrome “are forced to stretch their legs, kick, get up and walk a little, can not sleep even though they are very tired and sleepy. ”
“Between 3 and 5 in the morning the sensations begin to ease and once exhausted they fall asleep,” the document adds. Of course, the lack of healthy sleep It generates, in turn, other damages: daytime tiredness and drowsiness, anxiety, stress, irritability, confusion, difficulties in thinking clearly and an increased risk of depression.
Possible measures against restless legs syndrome
Treatment for RLS consists of various measures that seek to relieve your symptoms, since until now there is no known way to cure it permanently.
Among these measures is the administration of drugs, in particular dopaminergic. In other words, they increase (or mimic) the activity of dopamine, the neurotransmitter known as the “happiness hormone” in the brain. In this way, nerve signals to the leg muscles are intensified and feelings of discomfort and the need for movement are mitigated.
Other drugs used against this syndrome are antiepileptics, opioids and also iron supplements, if its deficiency has been detected in the body. Of course, any intake of these medications must be indicated by a doctor, who will have previously diagnosed RLS based on the assessment of your symptoms.
On the other hand, there are some habits related to lifestyle – cited by the guide of specialists in neurology and sleep and also by the United States National Library of Medicine– which can also relieve symptoms:
- Ensure proper sleep hygiene. Go to bed and get up every day at the same times, sleep the recommended seven or eight hours a day and avoid naps of more than half an hour. “It is usually useful, whenever possible, to delay bedtime -explains the aforementioned guide-, so that the beginning of sleep does not coincide with the moment of maximum intensity of RLS”.
- Changes in diet. In addition to iron deficiency, studies Recent reports indicate that gluten consumption could be associated with RLS. And it is something that could affect even non-celiac people. In that case, removing gluten from the diet could have positive effects.
- Avoid smoking, and at least cut down on alcohol and caffeinated beverages.
- Apply hot or cold compresses to the legs, and relax muscles with gentle stretches, massages, and baths.
- Try, as far as possible, lead a relaxed lifestyle, with low levels of anxiety. Activities such as meditation or yoga can be helpful in this regard.
- Do moderate and regular exercise It can ease symptoms of restless leg syndrome, but overdoing it or exercising too late in the day can intensify symptoms.
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