Diagnosing restless leg syndrome
Experts say the neurological nature of restless leg syndrome can make it difficult to diagnose.
Sleep plays an integral role in the overall health and operation of the body, from the storage of memory to metabolism and weight maintenance. Unfortunately, sleep can easily be interrupted, especially in the case of sleep-related disorders, such as restless leg syndrome (RLS).
RLS is a neurological condition that causes uncomfortable and sometimes painful sensations in the legs, creating an unavoidable need to touch or move the legs. While more research is needed regarding this condition, it is believed to affect as much as 8 to 10 percent of the United States population, while having a greater affect on people of middle age or older, according to a 20120 article by Dr. Jerome Litt in Psychology Today.
Those who suffer from RLS show their symptoms in the legs, and in some cases, the arms. These symptoms can include a wide variety of sensations such as crawling, tugging, burning, itching, tickling, pulling, pain or throbbing. Sensations can vary in type and severity, depending on the person, and may also vary throughout the day getting worse at night or during times of inactivity.
In most cases, symptoms cause an irresistible urge to touch or move the legs. Symptoms may also clear up for extended periods of time before returning. In some cases, restless leg syndrome may also be accompanied by a condition known as periodic limb movement disorder, which causes uncontrollable leg twitching and flexing, further affecting sleep.
The neurological nature of restless leg syndrome can make it difficult to diagnose. In order to help the diagnosis process, the International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group has created four criteria for helping doctors accurately diagnose RLS.
First, the patient must have an irresistibly strong urge to move his or her legs due to some form of uncomfortable sensation. Second, the symptoms must get worse during inactivity or times of rest. Third the symptoms must become less intense or get better during times of activity. Finally, the symptoms must get worse during the nighttime.
Once diagnosed, treatments for RLS can vary, largely because uncertainty still exists about the exact causes of the condition. Treatments typically start with treating underlying conditions first, which may contribute to the symptoms.
For example, treating peripheral neuropathy or an iron deficiency may significantly reduce the symptoms of RLS, suggests MayoClinic.com. When treating underlying conditions is not enough to lessen symptoms, doctors may also prescribe medications typically prescribed for other conditions.
For example, a doctor may prescribe ropinirole, typically used for Parkinson's disease, or gabapentin, which is often used to treat epilepsy. Medications may also be used to reduce the discomfort experienced by symptoms, including opiates like oxycodone, or muscle relaxants and sleep medications. It's important to note that some of these medications can become habit-forming, especially opiate pain killers.
If a patient is currently taking medications for anxiety, depression, or any types of antipsychotic medications, it's important that they talk to their psychiatrist or medical doctor about a possible link between the medications and symptoms of restless leg syndrome. An Indianapolis psychiatrist can help determine how or if a medication is causing symptoms, as well as recommend alternative medications or treatment methods to help relieve the effects of RLS.