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Restless legs syndrome affects many

Millions of people are afflicted with restless legs syndrome, an uncomfortable neurological condition that may lead them to repeatedly move their limbs to find relief. In spite of its name, restless legs syndrome, or RLS, is not limited to the lower extremities, as some of the sensations associated with the condition are felt in the arms as well.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a division of the National Institutes of Health, says as much as 10 percent of the United States population may have RLS. Several studies show that approximately 2 to 3 percent of adults are affected by moderate to severe RLS, which occurs in both men and women, though incidence of the condition is twice as high among women. Although people of any age can be diagnosed with RLS, it is more often diagnosed in middle-aged men and women and seniors.

The most common symptom of RLS is an irresistible urge to move because of uncomfortable, and sometimes painful, sensations deep within the body. The sensations often defy description but can range from pain or aching to creeping, crawling, or prickling feelings. Symptoms may occur at any time but are most evident when the body is at rest, whether sitting down for long periods of time or when going to sleep. Symptoms may increase in severity throughout the night.

Those with RLS frequently experience periodic limb movements characterized by jerking and twitching, which can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Sleep deprivation may carry over into daytime hours and make daily life difficult. Many with RLS also have concentration problems, impaired memory or struggle to perform daily tasks due to exhaustion.

RLS symptoms may vary and change from day to day. Symptoms may subside early in the morning, but they often reappear and worsen at night.

Considerable evidence points to a dysfunction in the brain's basal ganglia circuits that rely on the neurotransmitter dopamine, which helps regulate muscle movements, as a contributor to RLS. Individuals with Parkinson's disease often have RLS as well.

RLS may be a genetic condition, as it seems to run in families. Pregnancy, chronic diseases and medications can also aggravate symptoms of RLS.

RLS is diagnosed by looking at certain qualifying criteria. Physicians will document symptoms and note when they occur. Treatment may involve a mixture of medications as well as therapies for relieving symptoms. Medications for RLS may lose their efficacy over time, and doctors may have to work with patients to develop a treatment plan that works.

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