Restless legs syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (restless legs) is characterised by uncomfortable sensations such as prickling, pulling or tension in the legs. This discomfort occurs predominantly in the evenings or at night, and impacts on the sleep. Exercise brings improvement; thus those affected have an irresistible urge to move their legs and feet.

The exact cause of the disease is unknown. Dopamine, which is a messenger substance in the brain that plays an important role in Parkinson’s disease also seems to have an influence in the case of Restless legs syndrome. Familial predisposition is common in the case of this disease, so genetic factors seem to play a part.  Restless legs syndrome is quite common. It is assumed that up to 10% of the population suffers from it. Women are affected by it twice as often as men. Different circumstances are known to contribute to the occurrence of Restless legs syndrome. They include among others pregnancy, iron deficiency, kidney insufficiency and generally advanced age.

Restless legs syndrome is characterised by physical discomfort in the legs and feet (less often in the arms or hands) which leads to an insatiable urge to move the affected extremities. This discomfort may vary from case to case and occur to different degrees. Those affected often report prickling, uncomfortable warmth, tension, pain and pulling. The symptoms usually occur at rest and disappear when the affected person moves. They are particularly pronounced in the evening and at night and can cause severe sleeping difficulties.

Restless legs syndrome is diagnosed on the basis of the characteristic symptoms. An exact neurological diagnosis is usually required to rule out other causes.

The treatment of Restless legs syndrome depends on the severity of the symptoms and the concomitant circumstances. If there are any existing triggering factors, such as iron deficiency, these are treated primarily. If the symptoms still persist or occur without any triggering factors, various medical treatment options are considered. Depending on the situation, painkillers or different neurological medications are used.

In addition, moderate sporting activity, massage and avoidance of caffeine seem to have a positive effect on the disease.