Restless Legs

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a sensorimotor disorder characterized by a complaint of a strong urge to move the legs while awake.

The sensation is often described as a burning or aching sensation inside the legs. An estimated 12 million Americans are affected by RLS and although it occurs in both genders, it is more prevalent in women. Restless legs syndrome may begin as early as infancy and usually becomes progressively worse with age. More than 50% of patients with RLS report a familial pattern.

Restless legs syndrome causes abnormal sensations in the legs which range in severity from uncomfortable to painful. The urge to move the legs appears exacerbated by rest (lying or sitting) and is often partially and temporarily relieved by walking or moving the legs. The urge to move the legs worsens in the evening or at night with relative relief in the morning. The symptoms disturb quiet resting and often profoundly disturb a person's ability to go to sleep or return to sleep after awakening.

Iron and dopamine levels and genetics appear to be the primary factors in the pathology of Restless Legs Syndrome. Iron deficiency in the body increases both the risk and symptoms of RLS.

Several medications are effective in treating the symptoms of RLS.

Periodic Limb Movements

Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD) is characterized by periodic episodes of repetitive and highly stereotyped limb movements that occur during sleep.

PLMD often causes fragmented, restless sleep with complaint of insomnia. It affects approximately 35% of people over 65 years old, and men and women are generally affected equally. It can also occur in younger people, although this is less common. PLMD is not considered medically serious, however, it may be an indicator of kidney disease, diabetes or anemia.

Periodic Limb Movements (PLM's) are experienced most typically in the lower extremities. Repetitive contractions (leg jerk or upward flexing of the feet) occur about every 30 seconds, each lasting from .5 to 5 seconds. These episodes can last from a few minutes to an hour. High rates of depression, memory loss, attention deficits and fatigue have been reported in studies of patients with PLMD.

Several medications have been proven effective for Periodic Limb Movement Disorder, but treatment is generally only necessary if PLM's are accompanied by restless legs, insomnia or fatigue.