Table of contents:
- Main symptoms
- How to confirm the diagnosis
- Possible causes of the syndrome
- How the treatment is done
Restless legs syndrome is a sleep disorder characterized by involuntary movement and discomfort in the feet and legs, which can occur shortly after going to bed or throughout the night, interfering with the ability to sleep well.
Restless legs syndrome usually appears after age 40 and is more common in women, although it can occur in people of all ages. In addition, episodes of the syndrome also seem to happen more often in people who go to bed very tired.
Restless legs syndrome has no cure, but its discomfort can be reduced through relaxation techniques or medication prescribed by a doctor.
People who suffer from restless legs syndrome often have signs and symptoms such as:
- Uncontrollable urge to move legs in bed;
- Experience discomfort in the legs or feet, which can be described as tingling, itching or burning, for example;
- Having difficulty falling asleep due to discomfort;
- Feeling frequent tiredness and sleepiness during the day.
Symptoms seem to be more intense when the person is lying down or sitting up and tends to improve when the person stands up and walks around a little.
Furthermore, as the syndrome can also cause discomfort while sitting, it is very common for people with this syndrome to move their legs while sitting during the day.
How to confirm the diagnosis
The diagnosis of restless legs syndrome is usually made by a general practitioner or a doctor who specializes in sleep disorders. Although there is no test capable of confirming the diagnosis, the doctor usually suspects the syndrome by evaluating the symptoms.
Possible causes of the syndrome
The specific causes of restless legs syndrome are still unknown, however, it seems to be related to disorders in areas of the brain that are responsible for controlling muscle movements and are dependent on the neurotransmitter dopamine.
In addition, this syndrome also seems to be often accompanied by other changes such as iron deficiency, advanced kidney disease, excessive use of alcohol or drugs, neuropathy or use of some types of medication, such as anti-nausea drugs, antidepressants or antiallergics.
Restless legs syndrome is even more common in pregnancy, especially in the last trimester, disappearing after the baby is born.
How the treatment is done
Treatment for restless legs syndrome usually starts with careful dieting to try to avoid consuming foods and drinks that can be stimulants and worsen symptoms, such as coffee or alcohol, for example.
In addition, the doctor can often also try to identify if there is any other he alth change that could contribute to the worsening of symptoms, such as anemia, diabetes or thyroid changes, for example, starting treatment for this condition, if any is identified.
In the most serious cases, when the symptoms are very intense and prevent the person from sleeping, some remedies can be used such as:
- Dopamine agonists: They are usually the first drug treatment option and act as the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain, decreasing the intensity of symptoms;
- Benzodiazepines: they are sedatives that help you fall asleep more easily, even if you still have some symptoms;
- Alpha 2 agonists: stimulate alpha 2 receptors in the brain, which shut down the part of the nervous system responsible for involuntary muscle control, relieving the symptoms of the syndrome.
In addition, opiates can also be used, which are very strong medications usually used for severe pain, but which can also reduce the symptoms of restless legs syndrome. However, as they are extremely addictive and can cause several side effects, they should only be used under the supervision of a doctor.