Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a condition that causes an uncontrollable urge to move your legs, usually because of an uncomfortable sensation. It typically happens in the evening or nighttime hours when you’re sitting or lying down. Moving eases the unpleasant feeling temporarily. Restless leg syndrome is a common neurological sensorimotor disorder with an overall prevalence in adults of 5-10% in Europe and North America. Restless legs syndrome had a higher prevalence in men than women, with the difference reaching significance in those 40-49 years old; in men there was no positive correlation with age. Can begin at any age and generally worsens as you age (Chatterjee, Mitra, Guha & Chakraborty, 2015).
Restless leg syndrome is manifested by strong feelings of restlessness and distressing paraesthesia-like sensations (crawling, burning itching and tingling) in the lower legs, particularly when at rest. As a result of that, patients usually have a difficult time to maintain a proper sleep pattern; the symptoms vary considerably in severity and frequency (Borreguero & Pumarega, 2017). It can disrupt sleep, which interferes with daily activities.
There’s no known cause for restless leg syndrome. Researchers suspect the condition may be caused by an imbalance of the brain chemical dopamine, which sends messages to control muscle movement. Risk factors include peripheral neuropathy, iron deficiency, kidney failure and spinal cord conditions. It is also said to be a genetic disorder that is developed at the later stage of life; however symptoms start slowly at a younger age. It has been reported that restless leg syndrome is associated with anxiety and depressive disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Restless leg syndrome is often unrecognized or misdiagnosed. The diagnosis of restless leg syndrome could be difficult to make because it is mainly based on the symptoms reported. Consequently, the condition is diagnosed by the clinical characteristics of restlessness in the legs associated often with abnormal sensations that start at rest and are improved by activity, occurring with a diurnal pattern of worsened symptoms at night and improvement in the morning. Restless leg syndrome is the cause of impaired quality of life in those more severely afflicted (Cormella, 2014).
Once the diagnosis is made, the clinician must be sure to provide a detailed education pertaining to the nature of the disease, its process and management. Patients should be thought to institute a healthy lifestyle capable of promoting sleep. Patients may be advised to exercise regularly during the day, to avoid ingesting alcohol or smoking later in the day. Also, education could be provided about healthy eating such as the need to eat light and small meal in the evening to avoid any discomfort during sleep time.
Dopaminergic agents are the first-line drugs for most restless leg syndrome patients. One of the common drugs that may be prescribed for restless leg syndrome is Requip (ropinirole). Requip could be prescribed as immediate release: 0.25 mg per day by mouth 1 to 3 hours before bedtime; after day 2, Requip may be increased to 0.5 mg per day; at end of week 1, the drug may be increased to 1 mg per day, then increased weekly by 0.5 mg per day up to 4 mg per day (Medscape, 2017). It is important for primary care providers to educate patients about the nature and actions of the drugs that are prescribed, including side effects and the uncertainty of long-term effects. For example, when dopaminergic agents are prescribed, patients should be informed that although these medications are usually used to treat Parkinson’s disease, they also help to relieve restless leg syndrome symptoms.
According to Shubhakaran (2016) although pharmacologic treatment is helpful for many patients with RLS, those with mild symptoms may not need medications. Because no single medication or combination of medications will work predictably for all patients, treatment must be individualized.
Most cases of restless leg syndrome can be effectively managed by primary care providers. If the primary care clinician encounters difficulty managing restless leg syndrome symptoms in a patient, referral to or consultation with a movement disorders specialist or a sleep specialist may be helpful.
Borreguero, D. G. & Pumarega. I, C. (2017). New concepts in the management of restless legs syndrome.British Medical Journal, 10 (1). Retrieved from http://www.bmj.com
Chatterjee, S. S., Mitra, S., Guha, P., & Chakraborty, K. (2015). Prevalence of restless legs syndrome in somatoform pain disorder and its effect on quality of life. Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice, 6(2), 160-164. doi:10.4103/0976-3147.153219
Cormella, C. L. (2014). Treatment of restless legs syndrome. Neurotherapeutics Journal, 11 (1). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Medscape. (2017). Restless leg Syndrome. Retrieve from https://reference.medscape.com/dru
Shubhakaran, K. (2016). Restless leg syndrome and its treatment. Saudi Journal of Kidney Diseases and Transplantation: An Official Publication of the Saudi Center for Organ Transplantation, Saudi Arabia, 27(3), 621. doi:10.4103/1319-2442.182445