Many researchers believe that Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) affects nearly 10% of the population. Many find this number hard to believe because most people who do not have RLS have never heard of it; and many who suffer from RLS have not been diagnosed. Adding to the mystery of this disorder is the fact that the first modern medical record of RLS was in 1945, not that long ago…
According to Harvard Medical School this first modern case was recorded by a Swedish physician by the name of Dr. K. A. Ekbom. Although Ekbom gets the credit for discovering the syndrome (in fact, the official medical term for the disorder is Ekbom Syndrome) RLS symptoms were observed more than 270 years earlier by an Englishman named Thomas Willis, who wrote:
“To some, when being a bed they betake themselves to sleep, presently in the… Leggs Leapings and Contractions… and so great a Restlessness and Tossing of their Members ensue, that the diseased are no more able to sleep than if they were in a place of the greatest Torture.”
Regardless of the true number of people who suffer from RLS, the fact remains that this neurological/sleep disorder causes great discomfort and pain for those who have it. Most of the mystery comes from the fact that RLS symptoms are difficult to describe and quite unusual. Harvard Medical School lists RLS symptoms as follows:
1. Leg discomfort
It’s the first symptom. Most RLS patients describe the sensation not as pain but as a tingling, tearing, bubbling, prickling or burning sensation. Some patients have described their leg symptoms as “ants crawling up my legs,} or “soda pop in my veins. The discomfort is mostly commonly located deep inside the calves; however it can also occur in the thighs and feet. Usually both legs are affective. Counterintuitively, the pain does not increase when touch or pressure is applied to the skin or the muscles of the leg. In fact, touching or pressing on the area can cause some temporary relief.
2. Not Just Legs
RLS symptoms can also occur in the arms, but not as commonly as the legs and usually only in severe cases.
3. When At Rest
Leg pain usually occurs during rest, especially in bed during the night when the patient is preparing for sleep. In severe cases, the leg discomfort begins earlier but always worsens at bedtime.
4. Moving Provides Relief
Moving about is the only way that RLS patients find relief. It’s a misconception that RLS causes involuntary leg movements; it does not. Instead, RLS sufferers have an irresistible urge to move because they know it is the only way they will get any relief.
5. Sleep Disorder Classification
RLS is also classified as a sleep disorder because it is impossible to get a good night’s sleep because of its symptoms. Chronic poor sleep often causes morning headaches, exhaustion, impaired memory, poor concentration, fatigue, sleepiness during the afternoon and lack of productivity. Because of these factors, it is difficult for RFLS sufferers to maintain relationships or accomplish things on the job. Depression commonly accompanies RLS, mostly likely because of the concurrent chronic fatigue, problems on the job and relationship problems.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet
Harvard Health Publications: Restless Leg Syndrome