What Is Restless Leg Syndrome?

May 30, 2017 at 12:00 p.m. ET
Image: Getty Images/Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows

I've been feeling a strange itchy, tingling sensation on my right ankle lately whenever I sit for longer than a half hour. It seems no matter how much I rub it, the feeling won't go away until I get up and move. As a writer, I sit a lot and the sensation always returns as soon as I sit back down, so I am constantly wiggling my ankle for relief. It has become quite the distraction.

My mother suffers from restless leg syndrome, also know as also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, which is a neurological disorder that leaves her with an uncomfortable twitching feeling in her legs that makes her want to move them and can feel like something is crawling all over her. I was wondering if perhaps this was starting to happen to me. After all, RLS affects about 10 percent of adults and 2 percent of children.

Restless leg syndrome
Image: Getty Images/Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows

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While RLS can be really hard to diagnose, if you start having a twitchy or uncomfortable feeling in your legs, arms or other body parts, such as your torso or genitals, especially at night, and it makes you feel like you need to move, then the feeling disappears only to return as soon as you are still, you may need to seek medical attention. The feeling can be anything from a tingle to an uncomfortable pulling sensation.

While RLS can be more common in people who have arthritis, are pregnant or have diabetes or anemia, you can also suffer if you don't have these conditions.

The good news is you don't have to suffer from RLS, as it is treatable.

Always wanting to move your limbs around to get rid of the creepy-crawly feeling is annoying, but what is worse is that it can affect our sleep, which can lead to other problems such as depression.

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"Central nervous system problems that have been implicated include: neurotransmitters such as glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, circadian physiology, reduced central iron stores, dopaminergic systems and thalamic function," Dr. David Fox, a vascular surgeon specializing in the treatment of venous disease tells SheKnows.

He is an attending vascular surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital and offers what he claims to be the safest, most advanced vein treatments in the tri-state area, including endovenous laser therapy and sclerotherapy. Fox says that RLS is "poorly understood," as it indicates problems with both the central and peripheral nervous systems.

While there has been an effort to try to understand how we develop RLS, Fox explains that about half of all patients have some kind of family history of the condition.

"Many patients with RLS have not been found to have it as a consequence of an identifiable genetic pattern and no specific genetic abnormalities have been identified thus far," he adds.

RLS is in fact a treatable condition and most people do well when they seek treatment. The most common medications for treatment are pramipexole and ropinirole, but iron replacements and the Relaxis Pad, a device approved by the FDA in 2014, have also been known to relieve symptoms.

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RLS can start at any age, and Fox says about 45 percent of all patients experience their first symptoms before the age of 20, at which point it's considered early-onset RLS. Late onset begins after age 45.

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