Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a disease, mostly affecting the lower limbs. It results in uncomfortable tingling and a need for irrepressible movement, evenings and nights, which can affect the quality of life and sleep. Sometimes without a definite cause, restless legs syndrome can also be genetic, related to another pathology or medication.
This syndrome is a disorder of the nervous system causing an urge to move the legs. This condition is also referred to as “Willis and Ekbom’s Disease” or “Muscular Impatience Syndrome of Awakening” (or simply “impatience”).
RLS is accompanied by unpleasant sensations in the lower limbs, namely:
- itches ;
- an impression of “electric shock”.
Often, these symptoms increase the urge to move and are more pronounced for one of the two legs. In 20% of cases, they also touch the arms. Much more rarely, they can spread to other parts of the body. In the most severe forms of the syndrome, these manifestations sometimes cause pain.
Signs of RLS usually occur in the evening at rest, once the person is lying down. In all cases, the symptoms of the disease are calmed by the movement of the legs.
In addition, 80% of people with RLS have involuntary muscle twitching (or “periodic sleep movement”) while they sleep. If the concerned patients are not always aware of it, these shakes can interfere with the spouse.
Moreover, restless legs syndrome:
- reaches women more often;
- usually occurs in adulthood (however, in rare cases it may occur in children or adolescents).
Finally, be aware that we can present signs suggestive of RLS several times a year, without developing the disease.
What is the restless leg syndrome?
If the exact mechanisms of the disease remain unknown, two elements seem to play an important role in its triggering:
- iron deficiency in the body, with or without anemia;
- the lack of dopamine (a substance that allows the transmission of information between cells of the nervous system) in certain areas of the brain and spinal cord.
Physicians also distinguish three main forms of the disease, defined by context and / or specific contributing factors:
They have a genetic origin.
The so-called “secondary” forms
They are associated with other diseases, behaviors or situations that trigger or accentuate symptoms, such as:
- chronic renal failure;
- diabetes ;
- multiple sclerosis ;
- pregnancy (20 to 30% of pregnant women have RLS that disappears after delivery);
- taking certain medications (eg, neuroleptics, antidepressants, antihistamines)
- the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea and / or chocolate;
- stress and fatigue.
The forms called “
They have no identified cause (in particular, no other member of the patient’s family is affected).
The evolution and possible consequences of RLS
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is progressively evolving. In addition, symptoms may increase at certain times (stress, fatigue) and / or regress temporarily.
This condition can have two main consequences for the quality of life of people with:
A degradation of sleep
The patient has trouble falling asleep. He sometimes wakes up several times in the night to move his legs, or even to get up. Sometimes this causes insomnia and discomfort for the person sharing the bed, if any. In the long run, fatigue can appear during the day and lead to:
- difficulty concentrating;
- mood disorders (irritability or depression)
A disruption of socio-professional life
Sometimes, the RLS becomes annoying in situations where one remains immobilized for a certain time (meetings, shows, family meals, long trips by car or plane, etc.) Some people affected then avoid this type of events.
Restless legs syndrome is essentially characterized by three manifestations:
- A compelling need to move the legs, accompanied or caused by uncomfortable sensations in the lower limbs.
- Triggering or accentuation of signs during periods of rest, evening or night.
- The total or partial disappearance of the symptoms thanks to the movement of the legs.
- Haba-Rubio J, Heinzer R, Tafti M, Krieger J. Restless leg syndrome and periodic movements of the legs during sleep. EMC (Elsevier Masson SAS, Paris) – Neurology. 2012; 17-009-A-15.
- Ministry of Health and Solidarity. Report on the theme of sleep. Website: Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. Paris; 2006 [accessed June 5, 2014]
- Swiss Medical Journal. Restless legs syndrome in the elderly: an unknown affection. Website: Swiss Medical Journal. Chêne-Bourg (Switzerland); 2008 [accessed June 5, 2014]
- Swiss Medical Journal. SJSR and psychiatric treatment. Website: Swiss Medical Journal. Chêne-Bourg (Switzerland); 2006 [accessed June 5, 2014]
In case of restless legs syndrome, you can reduce your symptoms by walking, massaging or taking a hot bath. Also prefer a healthy lifestyle. If the symptoms become more pronounced, consult a doctor and try to follow his prescriptions.
You have unpleasant sensations in your legs, causing an urge to move? If these events remain episodic, know that they are commonplace and do not require any medical consultation.
On the other hand, take the advice of your doctor in the following cases:
- the symptoms are repeated more and more often;
- they disturb your sleep and concentration during the day, and / or affect your mood.
How to mitigate the symptoms of the disease in mild forms?
If Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) can not be prevented, the number and intensity of its manifestations can be reduced. For this, try to make a few simple actions (often enough to relieve mild symptoms):
- at the first signs, move, get up and walk for a few minutes;
- massage the affected members;
- according to your preferences, apply cold or warm compresses on your legs, or relax by taking a warm bath;
- concentrate all your attention on a sustained activity (intellectual, manual or playful).
Also be sure to adopt a healthy lifestyle:
- lie down and get up at fixed times, and get enough sleep;
- avoid anything that may accentuate the symptoms (eg tea, coffee, alcohol, intense physical activity at the end of the day);
- keep a balanced diet;
- have regular physical activity
What are the rules to follow in case of RLS diagnosed and treated?
If your doctor has confirmed the diagnosis of Restless Leg Syndrome:
- carefully follow his recommendations and the prescribed treatment;
- report to your practitioner any side effects or decreased effectiveness of medications taken;
- avoid additional self-medication;
- If another health professional has to give you a prescription, tell them that you have this condition. Indeed, some medications can accentuate your symptoms.
To learn about RLS, be listened to and get support, you can get closer to the patient association: