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Restless Legs Syndrome Information

RLS may be described as uncontrollable urges to move the limbs in order to stop uncomfortable, painful or odd sensations in the body, most commonly in the legs. Moving the affected body part eliminates the sensation, providing temporary relief. The sensations and need to move may return immediately after ceasing movement, or at a later time. RLS may start at any age, including early childhood, and is a progressive disease for a certain percentage of sufferers, although it has been known for the symptoms to disappear permanently in some sufferers.

Often sufferers think they are the only ones to be afflicted by this peculiar condition and are relieved when they find out that many others also suffer from it. The severity and frequency of the disorder vary tremendously. Many people only experience symptoms when they try to sleep, while other experience symptoms during the day. It is common to have symptoms on long car rides or during any long period of inactivity (like watching television or a movie, attending a musical or theatrical performance, etc.) Approximately 80-90% of people with RLS also have PLMD, Periodic Limb Movement Disorder, which causes slow "jerks" or flexions of the affected body part. These occur during sleep (PLMS = Periodic Limb Movement while Sleeping) or while awake (PLMW - Periodic Limb Movement while Waking).

About 10 percent of adults in North America and Europe may experience RLS symptoms, according to the National Sleep Foundation, which reports that "lower prevalence has been found in India, Japan and Singapore," indicating that ethnic factors, including diet, may play a role in the prevalence of this syndrome.

Treatment for RLS is based on how disruptive the symptoms are. All people should review their lifestyle and see what changes could be made to reduce or eliminate their RLS symptoms. These include: finding the right level of exercise (too much worsens it, too little may trigger it); eliminating caffeine, smoking, and alcohol; changing the diet to eliminate foods that trigger RLS (different for each person, but may include eliminating sugar, triglycerides, gluten, sugar substitutes, following a low-fat diet, etc.); keeping good sleep hygiene; treating conditions that may cause secondary RLS; avoiding or stopping OTC or prescription drugs that trigger RLS; adding supplements such as magnesium, B-12, folate, vitamin E, and calcium. Some of these changes, such as diet and adding supplements are based on anecdotal evidence from RLS sufferers, as few studies have been done on these alternatives.

All people with RLS should have their ferritin levels tested; ferritin levels should be at least 50 mcg for those with RLS. Oral iron supplements, taken under a doctor's care, can increase ferritin levels. For some people, increasing ferritin will eliminate or reduce RLS symptoms. At least 40% of people will not notice any improvement, however. IV iron is being tested at the US Mayo Clinic as a method of treating RLS. It is dangerous to take iron supplements without first having ferritin levels tested, as many people with RLS do not have low ferritin and excess iron in the body can cause hemochromatosis, a very dangerous condition.

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