What is Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)?
Restless legs syndrome (RLS), also called Willis Ekbom disease is a chronic disorder characterized by an anxious urge to move the legs. This urge is often accompanied by pain or other uncomfortable and unpleasant sensations such as itching, prickling, pulling, or crawling. Restless legs syndrome either occurs or worsens during rest, particularly in the evening and/or during sleep.
RLS affects 5 to 10% of adults and 2 to 4% of children in the U.S. and it is found in women more often than men. People of all ages can develop RLS, but the most severe symptoms tend to occur in older adults
RLS has a considerable negative impact on the quality of life, and sleep and is associated with significant morbidity.
Restless Legs Syndrome and Insomnia
The desire to move one’s legs makes falling asleep and staying asleep difficult for many people with RLS. A study found that 88% of individuals with RLS reported at least one sleep-related symptom. RLS symptoms often appear shortly after laying down at night and patients will kick, squirm, or massage their legs to lessen the sensation. Some people with RLS are compelled to get out of bed and pace or stretch.
As a result of the sleep disturbances associated with RLS, patients often experience fatigue and daytime sleepiness. Sleep deficiency is associated5 with depression, anxiety, heart disease, and obesity. RLS patients are at greater risk for these issues as well. Concerns about sleep are the main reason RLS patients seek medical care for their condition.
What Causes Restless Legs Syndrome?
Sometimes, RLS is associated with other medical conditions, such as late-stage kidney disease, iron deficiency, neuropathy, multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson’s disease.
RLS can also occur temporarily during pregnancy, with around 20% of women developing RLS during the third trimester. The symptoms of RLS typically decline after delivery.
However, the cause of most RLS cases is unknown. RLS may have a genetic component. Between 40% and 90% of patients with RLS have at least one first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) with the condition. Researchers have identified some genetic changes that increase risk for RLS, but it is likely that more have yet to be discovered.
Restless Legs Syndrome Triggers
Sitting or resting are common triggers for RLS symptoms. Additionally, some substances can make symptoms worse.
- Medications, including certain drugs used to treat nausea, colds and allergies, and mental health conditions.
- Incidentally, most of these substances when taken in excess or too close to bedtime can also adversely affect our sleep architecture.
People with RLS may walk, stretch, or shake their legs to achieve relief. Symptoms tend to be worse when inactive, including when relaxing or lying down.
Usually, symptoms respond well to dopamine agonists (DA), anticonvulsants, or opiates, used either alone or in any combination. However, these medications can cause serious side effects such as augmentation and impulse control disorders.
Cannabidiols and RLS
When incorporated into daily rituals, CBD can help to soothe feelings of tension and discomfort. Therefore, it may be useful for people experiencing a range of conditions from arthritis to fibromyalgia. According to a study by the Clinical Neurosciences Centre in Bordeaux, 84% of participants found CBD helped to calm the more immediate symptoms of RLS. While more studies must be carried out before CBD can be officially confirmed as a medical treatment for RLS, this appears to be very promising.
While CBD does not constitute a cure for RLS, there are numerous ways in which it can help those living with the condition. For instance, RLS often leaves people feeling stiff and physically worn out. A CBD massage will help specific areas of the body to unwind, whilst also allowing the mind to enter a deep state of rest.
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