Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a neurological condition that causes someone to have an irresistible urge to move their legs (In some cases their arms as well). Despite the fact that some people, including doctors, do not acknowledge it as a real condition, it is.
In my family we have what is called Primary RLS. Basically that means the people in my family have RLS that is not caused by an injury or a medication. The people in my family that we know for sure have it or had it are my great-grandmother, my grandfather, my mother, my brother, possibly my son, myself, and my daughter has started exhibiting some symptoms.
Some symptoms of RLS are:
A strong urge (for me it is a horrible and irresistible urge) to move your legs (for some people it can include their arms). The need to move your legs is often accompanied by extremely uncomfortable sensations, like feeling as if there are bugs crawling around in your legs, feeling as if you are being stuck with pins and needles (much different than having your foot fall asleep feeling), pulling, tugging or and/or gnawing.
The symptoms are usually worse at night or when you are resting. Some people find that they have symptoms when they are required to sit for long periods, like in a car. Symptoms are usually worse the more sleepy you are.
Your RLS symptoms get better with movement. Either they go away for a short period of time or they are reduced. The relief usually begins shortly after your legs (or arms) become active, and will usually last the duration of the activity.
RLS can make it so you have an extremely difficult time falling asleep and/or staying asleep. Lack of sleep is one of the chief complaints by people with this disorder. The lack of sleep caused by this disorder can have a huge negative impact on your physical and mental health.
When my RLS symptoms are out of control, it really affects my mental health, as well as my sleep and how I feel physically. Just the symptoms alone are enough to affect my mental health because they feel so bad. In fact, the final thing that pushed me into the act of suicide was the thought that since my husband and I had lost our health insurance I would not be able to obtain the medication I need to keep my symptoms controlled.
To me, the misunderstanding about how badly RLS can affect someone can be equated to the misunderstanding about people with mental health issues. It is a horrible disorder than eats away at your life. For me and my family, it is nothing like it is portrayed in the TV commercials where it is only slightly annoying. My mother has probably not had a good night’s sleep in years because her symptoms are so bad. Her medications for it do not alleviate all of her symptoms. I am caught in a catch 22 type of situation. The medications I need to treat my depression make the symptoms worse, which means I have had to increase my dose of RLS medication twice in the last year. My brother sometimes gets symptoms in his arms as well as his usual ones in his legs.
People who have Primary RLS cannot look forward to a time when their symptoms might go away, like people whose RLS is solely caused by a medication or injury can. Instead, our symptoms almost always get worse as we get older. Because so few doctors really understand how insidious this illness can be, they are often at a loss on how to treat us. Often for us to get any relief from our symptoms, we have to take a higher dose of the RLS medications than is normally given out, and this tends to make most doctors a little wary about prescribing those higher doses.
I hate RLS with a passion. I hate how it makes my arms and legs feel. I hate how it takes away my sleep. I hate how I see it affecting my mother. I hate the fact that my children most likely have it. I hate how it turns the simple act of taking a nap into a huge deal. I hate that it often keeps me and my husband from sleeping in the same bed.