Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological (brain) disorder that causes an individual's legs to feel extremely uncomfortable when sitting or lying down. These unpleasant sensations may feel like burning, tugging, or like insects are crawling inside the legs. Often called paresthesias (abnormal sensations) or dysesthesias (unpleasant abnormal sensations), the symptoms range in severity from mildly uncomfortable to painful.
RLS causes an uncontrollable urge to stand up or walk around. When the person gets up, the symptoms start to go away. As a result, it often makes it difficult for the patient to relax, sleep comfortably, or travel.
It is estimated that RLS affects 10-15% of Americans, with men and women affected equally. However, the condition is often unrecognized or misdiagnosed as nervousness, stress, insomnia, or muscle cramps. RLS can develop at any age, but it usually is not diagnosed until 10-20 years after symptoms develop. In some patients, the condition may worsen with age. Some patients may experience short periods of remission that may last for days, weeks, or months.
More than 80% of RLS patients also experience a more common condition called periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMS). This condition causes the legs to involuntarily twitch or jerk during sleep every 5-60 seconds. Sometimes this jerking movement continues throughout the entire night. The symptoms repeatedly wake up the patient, his/her bedmate bate, and severely disrupt sleep. Although many patients with RLS develop PLMS, most people with PLMS do not experience RLS. Like RLS, the cause of PLMS is unknown.
RLS is generally a lifelong condition because there is currently no cure. However, simple lifestyle changes and medications have been shown to improve symptoms of the disorder.
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