When trying to sleep, have you ever experienced strange feelings in legs that compel you to move them? If so, you may have experienced Restless legs syndrome (RLS). It most commonly affects the legs, but can also affect the arms or torso. Moving the affected body part provides relief for a brief period, but then the sensation returns.
RLS may start at any age, including early childhood. For some people it is a progressive disease. For others, it happens only under certain conditions, such as extreme fatigue, and then disappears. The sensations are unusual and unlike other common sensations. People who suffer from RLS have a hard time describing them but use words such as: uncomfortable, “antsy”, electrical, creeping and many others. While it may be impossible to describe the sensation to someone without RLS, other RLS sufferers can easily relate to the peculiar sensation. Some people have little or no sensation, yet still have a strong urge to move.
A National Institutes of Health (NIH) consensus panel established the following criteria for the diagnosis: 1) an urge to move the limbs with or without sensations, 2) improvement with activity, 2) worsening at rest, 3) worsening in the evening or night.
The diagnosis of RLS is made on a good medical history and physical examination. Other than preventing an underlying cause, such as anemia, no method of preventing restless legs has been established or studied. Treatment of restless legs syndrome involves identifying the cause of symptoms when possible. Stretching the muscles in the legs can bring instant and permanent relief, lasting several days or longer. This does not work for everyone: sometimes relief is temporary, and discomfort can return within seconds.