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Restless legs syndrome, or Willis-Ekbom disease, often causes difficulties in initiating or maintaining sleep. A Hong Kong study found that the prevalence of restless legs syndrome symptoms was 2.8% in Chinese adolescents. The symptoms typically become more frequent and last longer with age. Globally, restless legs syndrome is thought to affect between 4 and 29% of adults, but is thought to be less common in Asians than in Europeans.
In this article, you will learn more about the symptoms, causes and treatments of restless legs syndrome and understand how to manage the condition in Hong Kong.
Restless legs syndrome causes an irresistible urge to move the legs, usually due to uncomfortable sensations in the legs. The symptoms typically develop or worsen during periods of inactivity, and are particularly prevalent in the evening or at night. Restless legs syndrome is considered a sleep-related movement disorder and most patients have characteristic leg movements even while sleeping.
People with restless legs syndrome may experience the following signs or symptoms:
Remissions may sometimes occur during the early stages of the disorder, in which people with restless legs syndrome may experience spontaneous disappearance of the symptoms before they emerge again, even more severely.
The causes of idiopathic or primary restless legs syndrome are still under study. However, the role of genetic factors in the onset of symptoms before age 40 has been confirmed. Evidence also suggests that a low level of iron content in the brain may give rise to restless legs syndrome.
Various studies suggest that dysfunction in the basal ganglia may be associated with restless legs syndrome. Dopamine, stored in the basal ganglia, is required to produce purposeful muscle behavior and movements. Disruptions of the basal ganglia pathways, hence, may be responsible for involuntary leg movements. People with Parkinson’s disease have an increased chance of developing restless legs syndrome due to a deficit in dopamine.
Secondary restless legs syndrome may be caused by certain long-term medical conditions, especially iron deficiency anemia or kidney failure. In addition, the last three months of pregnancy are associated with increased occurrence of restless legs syndrome. The symptoms usually cease within a month after delivery.
Restless legs syndrome is a lifelong condition with no cure. However, there are treatments that can effectively relieve the symptoms.
Iron supplementation can often provide significant relief of the symptoms of restless legs syndrome.
Depending on the severity of the syndrome, clinicians may offer different treatment options:
Before receiving medications, patients should consult their healthcare provider to understand the possible risks and side effects of the drugs. Please also note that some of the listed medications are not available over-the-counter and require prescription by a qualified medical professional.
Research is still underway to establish the causes of (idiopathic or primary) restless legs syndrome. However, the role of genetic factors in the onset of symptoms before age 40 has been confirmed.
Iron deficiency is thought to be one of the leading causes of restless legs syndrome. Studies show that intake of iron supplements can help reduce the symptoms. If you think you might be prone to iron deficiency, please do not hesitate to have a simple blood test and talk to your doctor.
Often, non-pharmacological measures or iron supplements can relieve the symptoms. Otherwise, anti-seizure drugs such as gabapentin are prescribed for individuals as the first-line drugs. If the response to these agents is poor, dopaminergic agents, opioids and benzodiazepines may be prescribed as deemed necessary by medical professionals.
This article was independently written by Healthy Matters. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.
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