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Got restless legs? This is what it means about your health

If you frequently experience an overwhelming urge to move your legs when you’re sitting still or lying down, you’re not alone.

Perhaps you’ve found yourself lying in bed or sitting at your desk, only to realise you’re legs and feet are repetitively moving – almost as if they have a mind of their own.

It’s highly likely you might be experiencing Restless Leg Syndrome – a neurological disorder that’s characterised by uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them.

‘These sensations typically occur during periods of rest or inactivity, such as when sitting or lying down, and they often worsen in the evening or at night,’ explains Dr Chun Tang, medical director of Pall Mall Medical.

‘Movement provides temporary relief from the discomfort.’

However, the intensity of this can vary from person to person.

Dr Chang adds: ‘People with RLS often describe the sensations as crawling, creeping, tingling, burning, or itching deep within the legs. Sufferers may find the sensations difficult to describe accurately but they are distressing and uncomfortable.

‘The discomfort is accompanied by an uncontrollable urge to move the legs to alleviate the sensations. This movement can be voluntary or involuntary, such as constant shifting, stretching, or rhythmic leg movements.

‘In more severe cases, the symptoms can significantly impact a person’s quality of life, leading to chronic sleep disturbances and fatigue and severity can also fluctuate over time.’

Dr Suhail Hussain, a GP from London, adds that while it might seem harmless, it’s important to make sure there’s no underlying factor for this restlessness.

He says: ‘If people are low in iron/anaemic this can often result in such symptoms as restless legs amongst others – hair thinning, tiredness etc. You should also be checked for any other pathological cause before it is classed as unknown.

‘Conditions to check for include, hypothyroidism, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia.’

But what causes this restlessness? And why do some people get it and others don’t?

Dr Chang adds: ‘The exact cause of RLS is not fully understood, but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

‘Certain medical conditions, such as iron deficiency, peripheral neuropathy, kidney failure, and pregnancy, can trigger or worsen RLS symptoms.

‘Treatment for RLS depends on the severity of symptoms and their impact on a person’s daily life.’

Treatment for RSL:

In terms of treatment, physiotherapist Rich McBain of Tower Health says there are three areas that can be looked into: lifestyle changes, medication and medical management.

‘Mild cases might benefit from lifestyle adjustments, such as regular exercise, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime, and practising relaxation techniques,’ says Rich.

‘For more severe cases that significantly affect sleep and quality of life, medications can be prescribed. These may include dopaminergic agents, opioids, anticonvulsants, and iron supplements if iron deficiency is a contributing factor.’

He adds: ‘Treating underlying conditions, such as iron deficiency or peripheral neuropathy, can sometimes alleviate RLS symptoms.’

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