What is restless legs syndrome and its causes?

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SIP is a neurological disorder that produces a myriad of annoying reactions, especially in the lower extremities, making the affected person unable to stop moving them. We give you tips to control it.

There is still an idea among the population that restless legs syndrome (RLS) is an invention. Nothing could be further from the truth. This disease, which produces innumerable annoying reactions, especially in the lower extremities, jeopardizes the affected ‘ health and quality of life. For this reason, its immediate diagnosis and treatment are so important, and the incorporation of healthy habits helps control symptoms.

What are restless legs syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome or RLS is a neurological disorder that causes shaking, itching, nervousness, tingling, pricking, heat, and even pain in the lower extremities. When the person is relaxed or at rest, it appears with greater intensity during the night – so he can’t stop moving them.

The discomfort is usually reduced if the legs move, so most of those affected choose to walk – hence, those affected are also known as nightwalkers. But these symptoms, to a moderate or severe degree, lead to difficulty falling asleep and maintaining sleep, which leads to exhaustion, problems with attention, and alterations in mood.

The daytime symptoms should also not be overlooked. New data reveal that almost seven out of ten patients with RLS also suffer from symptomatic attacks during the day, which mainly manifest themselves during moments of immobility.

People affected by restless leg syndrome have a hard time sitting still and being relaxed, preventing them from performing everyday actions for others such as driving, going to cultural events, and even working.

However, the decline in quality of life is not the only problem with RLS. According to a study carried out by the Spanish Association of Restless Legs Syndrome (AESPI), in collaboration with the Sleep Research Institute, patients with RLS are up to 2.5 times more likely to develop heart disease. Likewise, the risk of arterial hypertension also increases up to 2.5 times more than the population that does not have RLS.

It is estimated that this problem affects 10-15% of the world’s population between 18 and 65. Specifically, seven out of ten affected are white women with a family history of restless leg syndrome and a previous history of diabetes, iron deficiency, rheumatoid arthritis, or kidney failure. Only in Spain, according to data from the Spanish Society of Neurology, about 2 million people suffer from restless leg syndrome, and up to 90% of people who suffer from this disorder could be undiagnosed.

Causes and types of restless leg syndrome

Despite multiple investigations, the cause of restless legs syndrome (RLS) is still unclear. However, several possibilities are considered that give rise to the different types of SPI :

  • Primary or familial restless leg syndrome: genetic causes cause it. The experts assure that there are several related chromosomes, and they are investigating in this line. It is estimated that 66% of RLS patients have at least one affected first-degree relative (siblings, parents, children).
  • Secondary restless legs syndrome: it arises as a result of another disease, usually anemia and low iron level in the blood, and other chronic conditions such as peripheral neuropathy, diabetes, kidney failure, or rheumatoid arthritis. Also, during childbirth, 15% of women develop secondary RLS.
  • Idiopathic restless leg syndrome (of unknown cause): This is called when there is no family precedent for RLS, and the person does not have any disease associated with this condition.

In any case, specialists point out that RLS is due to a disorder of the dopaminergic system, responsible for generating dopamine, a natural substance produced in the brain that is inescapable to control movement. And this alteration is what causes the characteristic symptoms of restless legs syndrome.

A study published in 2018 in Neurology suggested that restless legs syndrome could have its origin in an alteration in the brain’s somatosensory cortex – where sensations are processed.