Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is difficult to diagnose and there is no specific test that can identify the condition. Because other illnesses — such as various neuropathic syndromes, arthritis, nocturnal leg cramps and growing pains — present symptoms that are similar to those of RLS, these conditions must first be eliminated from consideration. Because the muscular cramping caused by growing pains are common among children and adolescents, parents often assume that the uncomfortable symptoms will resolve themselves on their own. Consequently, many children who suffer from RLS symptoms, which parents assume are caused by growing pains, are undiagnosed because the children never go to a health care provider to seek treatment. Following are some clinical differences between growing pains and RLS:
- While growing pains tend to occur on both sides of the body; RLS symptoms can appear one or both sides.
- Growing pains are almost universally described as painful,while RLS causes numerous uncomfortable, but not necessarily painful sensations including itching and tingling. However, because RLS can also cause pain that is similar to that experienced by children suffering from growing pains, it is important to take your child to the doctor rather than assuming the problem is caused by growing pains.
- Symptoms from RLS are usually relieved once the child begins moving, while moving tends to exacerbate growing pains.
Diagnosing RLS in Kids
If you suspect your child has RLS, a pediatrician can often identify the problem through a series of medical tests and history taking. There is overwhelming anecdotal evidence that RLS is an inherited condition. As a result, if other members of your family have suffered from Restless Legs Syndrome, your child’s symptoms will present a red flag. Because iron deficiencies have been implicated as a cause of RLS, your child’s doctor should test for levels of serum iron as well as ferritin, which the body uses to bind iron. A thorough examination should also take into consideration a child’s aggressive behavior,inability to pay attention and hyperactivity, which can be caused by RLS as well as ADHD. The examining physician should also evaluate all medications that child has been taking, because certain antidepressants and antihistamines can aggravate RLS symptoms.
Treating your Child’s RLS
There are a number of medical and lifestyle approaches to treating the child who suffers from RLS. If an iron deficiency has been identified by your child’s physician, iron supplements may help relieve symptoms. Good sleep habits, moderate exercise, massage therapy, hot baths and the use of ice packs can also help. Your child should also be taught to avoid foods that are high in sugar content and caffeine products. Although RLS is an incurable condition, proper medical care and healthy lifestyle adaptations can help your child adjust.