8 Things You Didn't Know About Restless Legs Syndrome

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Fibromyalgia and RLS

A 2010 study showed that people with fibromyalgia (FM) are 11 times more likely to have restless legs syndrome (RLS) than the general population.  One-third (33 percent) of those with FM had RLS as opposed to only 3 percent of those who did not have FM.  The following are some facts about RLS.

Symptoms of RLS

Restless legs syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by throbbing, pulling, creeping, or other unpleasant sensations in the legs and an uncontrollable, and sometimes overwhelming, urge to move them.

Attacks at night

RLS symptoms occur primarily at night when a person is relaxing or at rest and can increase in severity during the night.  Most people with RLS have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.  Symptoms typically disappear in the early morning hours, allowing for more refreshing sleep at that time.

Constant motion

Because moving the legs relieves the discomfort, people with RLS often keep their legs in motion to minimize or prevent the sensations. They may pace the floor, constantly move their legs while sitting, and toss and turn in bed.

A neurological disorder?

Evidence suggests that RLS is related to a dysfunction in the brain’s basal ganglia circuits that use the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is needed to produce smooth, purposeful muscle activity and movement. Disruption of these pathways frequently results in involuntary movements.

RLS does not discriminate

RLS may begin at any age.  Twice as many women as men are affected.  Symptoms typically become more frequent and last longer as people get older.

Finding relief

Massaging the legs, taking a hot bath, or using a heating pad or ice pack may help reduce RLS symptoms.

Medications for RLS

Two medications have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of RLS – Mirapex (pramipexole) and Requip (ropinirole).  Both drugs increase dopamine levels and are also used to treat Parkinson's disease.  Other medications such as benzodiazepines and anticonvulsants may be prescribed off-label.