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Restless Legs Syndrome is the strangest name any syndrome can have. It’s also one of those conditions we popularly associate with ageing. We’ve all heard of it, but what is it exactly? And what does it really have to do with legs?

What is Restless Leg Syndrome?

  • Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a neurologically based sensory, movement and sleep disorder. Also called ‘Willis Ekborn Disease’, RLS is experienced as uncomfortable sensations in the legs along with an overwhelming urge to try and rid oneself of the sensations by moving one’s legs.
  • The sensations are usually described as ‘strange’. They differ from person to person. Some people describe ‘crawling or creeping’ sensations, others experience intense throbbing and a feeling of heaviness; still others describe extreme itching they cannot relieve. Whatever the subjective experience, the symptoms can range from mild to moderate, to severe and even debilitating.
  • The desire to move ones legs is uncontrollable and can result in persistent and painful leg jerking.

Causes of RLS and who it affects

  • Know one knows what causes Restless Leg Syndrome. However, we do know that it is ‘all in the brain’. There is nothing happening in the legs to cause the sensations and responding leg movements; it is simply experienced as such.
  • RLS is more common in women than in men. Although it can affect anyone of any age, it is also prevalent in later years. Symptoms generally start in middle-age, often worsening over time – with RLS ‘attacks’ increasing in frequency and duration.
  • Sudden onset of acute RLS is also common in the third trimester of pregnancy.

RLS as a Sleep Disorder

  • Although RLS is a sensory movement disorder, it is described as a sleep disorder because it most commonly occurs at night.
  • Symptoms usually start when the sufferer is winding down in the evening or lying down to sleep. The sensations and resulting leg jerking can also get worse as the sufferer tries to relax and get their leg movements under control.
  • RLS is characterised by that fact that it disturbs sleep. In this regard it is distinct from other syndromes that cause occasional limb jerking and twitching during sleep. In the worst cases, the intense discomfort and powerful leg jerks associated with RLS are powerful and prolonged enough to prevent sleep altogether.
  • RLS is associated with daytime sleepiness, sleep deprevation and other health consequences of ongoing lack of quality sleep and disturbed sleep.

Over time, the impact of frequent RLS attacks at night can have a huge impact on daytime functioning and quality of life. It is therefore taken very seriously as a sleep disorder.