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Restless Legs Syndrome Can Impair Sleep

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a disorder in which a person experiences a “creepy-crawly” feeling in his or her legs and has an irresistible urge to move them — most often when lying or sitting down. It is considered a sleep disorder because it can significantly impair sleep.

“We do not know exactly what causes RLS,” says Bradley K. Bittle, MD, FCCP, D-ABSM, pulmonologist and sleep medicine specialist,  Saint Francis Medical Partner. “However, there are some conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, kidney failure, peripheral neuropathy, iron deficiency and pregnancy, that may cause you to develop RLS.”

It also appears to be genetic: Researchers have noted that nearly half of all people withBittle_Bradley RLS have a family member with the same problem.

The disorder can range from a minor irritant to a major problem, causing sleep issues that hinder your ability to perform everyday tasks. If you suspect you have RLS, keep track of your sleep patterns in a sleep diary. Talk with your doctor about lifestyle changes or medications that can decrease or eliminate symptoms.

“First, we focus on treating underlying conditions, such as iron deficiency,” says Bittle. “If there is no known cause of your RLS, we move on to lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly and decreasing your use of caffeine, tobacco and alcohol. Patients have also found significant relief with leg massages, heating pads and vibrating pads.”

When conservative measures fail, there are several different types of drugs that can help relieve RLS:

  • Medications that increase dopamine in the brain, such as Mirapex® and Requip®
  • Antiseizure medications, such as Lyrica® and Tegretol®
  • Benzodiazepines, such as Lunesta® and Ambien®, which can help you sleep more easily
  • Narcotics, which can relieve pain

“Sleep restores your brain so you are ready for the next day,” says Bittle. “When you have a problem that impairs your ability to get a good night’s sleep, it can make life very difficult.”

For more information on restless legs syndrome, call 573-331-3000.

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