Restless legs syndrome (RLS), formerly the Willis-Ekbom disease, is a debilitating chronic neurological disease that causes individuals to experience unpleasant sensations in their legs. These sensations can range from mild crawling or tingling sensations to more intense aches and pains.
These sensations often create an overwhelming urge to move the legs, leading to discomfort and disruption of sleep and daily activities. While the exact cause of RLS is not clear, researchers have identified several factors that may contribute to its development.
Causes of RLS
Imbalance of Dopamine
One possible cause of RLS is an imbalance of the brain chemical dopamine. Researchers suspect that this imbalance disrupts the normal functioning of the dopamine system, which is responsible for controlling movement and muscle activity. An imbalance in dopamine levels can cause abnormal sensations in the legs, triggering the irresistible urge to move around which is a landmark symptom of RLS.
RLS seems to run in families, especially in cases where the onset of symptoms is before age 40, suggesting a genetic component to the condition. Although more research is needed to fully understand the genetic factors involved in RLS, studies have identified various genetic variations that may be responsible for the genetic predisposition in some individuals.
Deficiencies in certain nutrients, such as iron, magnesium, or folic acid, have also been linked to RLS. Iron deficiency, in particular, has been strongly associated with the development or worsening of RLS symptoms.
Iron is essential for proper dopamine function, and low iron levels can disrupt dopamine production, leading to the onset or exacerbation of RLS. Therefore, maintaining adequate levels of these nutrients through a balanced diet or supplementation is vital for individuals with RLS.
Underlying Health Conditions
Several underlying health conditions have been linked to an increased risk of developing RLS. Chronic kidney disease, diabetes, and peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage in the arms and legs) are among the conditions linked to RLS.
Though the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, evidence suggests the disruption of nerve signaling and blood flow may contribute to the onset of RLS in individuals with these conditions.
Pregnancy is another potential risk factor for the development of RLS. Studies suggest that anywhere from 10 to 34% of pregnant women experience symptoms of RLS during their pregnancy, usually in the third trimester.
The exact cause is not entirely clear, but it’s thought to be related to hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy. Other factors, such as iron deficiency and vein problems, such as varicose veins or venous insufficiency – which are common during pregnancy, may also contribute to the onset of RLS symptoms.
To manage RLS during pregnancy, women should focus on maintaining optimal nutrition, getting adequate rest and exercise, minimizing stress levels, and discussing any concerns with their healthcare provider. Taking these steps can help minimize the uncomfortable sensations associated with RLS while pregnant.
Certain Medications and Other Substances
Medications and substances such as alcohol, caffeine, and certain cold and allergy medications have been linked to an increased risk of developing RLS. These substances can interfere with dopamine production or disrupt nerve signals, resulting in the onset or exacerbation of RLS.
In some cases, the cause of RLS remains unknown, leading to a diagnosis of idiopathic or primary RLS. This means there is no identifiable underlying condition or specific cause for the symptoms. Idiopathic RLS accounts for a significant portion of RLS cases, highlighting the complexity of this condition and the need for further research.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a potentially debilitating neuropathic disorder that causes people to experience unpleasant sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them. RLS treatment typically comprises exercise, nutrient supplementation, lifestyle modifications, and, in some cases, medications aimed at helping reduce the discomfort.
However, for individuals who have not found relief through traditional treatments or are seeking alternative options, personalized ketamine treatments offered at Thrive Center for Health may provide reprieve. Ketamine therapy is a novel treatment that has proven effective in alleviating symptoms of numerous neurological conditions, including RLS.
At Thrive Center for Health, we offer tailored ketamine treatments that aim to address the unique needs of each individual, providing relief where other treatment options have failed. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and discover how our clinic can help you manage RLS and improve your quality of life.