“Mom, my legs feel funny. I have to move them to make it go away.” That was what my son told my wife a few days ago. Sadly to say, I think he inherited my condition. Poor kid, he has to deal with this. And he is not even 10 years old.
I have Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). At least that’s my excuse for being fidgety.
I am not the first one in my family with this condition. I remember when we were very young, my father will have this “fits” at night that he had to move his legs like he was swimming in bed. My mother said that he was “balisa” (Tagalog for restless), and chalked it all up to stress. My dad would ask me and my little sister to massage his legs with our little hands, and that seemed to soothe him. We had no idea of what RLS was at that time.
When I was in college, I started noticing the same symptoms. But not only at night, but also during the day. I had to move my legs a lot, to be comfortable. I always do the “kuyakoy” (legs shaking) whenever I was sitting. I thought that was just normal.
Once, when I was in medical school, we were taking an exam, and I was constantly jiggling my legs to help me relax. Another classmate who was sitting at the other end of the table was doing the same. The whole table was shaking like an earthquake, that the one who was in the middle, complained and called our attention. I did not suspect that I have RLS then yet.
Now that I am older, I still have antsy legs, if not even worse. There were episodes at night when I was lying in bed that I would have this urge to move my legs (sometimes arms as well) and I would kick and flail vigorously like a fish out of the water. The difference now is at least I understand what RLS is.
RLS is a disorder in which there is an irresistible urge or need to move the legs to relieve the unpleasant sensation. It can develop at any age and generally worsens as one gets older. It can disrupt sleep and can cause daytime sleepiness and fatigue. It is one of the more common condition of sleep disorders we see. It is ironic that as a sleep specialist, I myself suffer from this condition.
In many cases, no known cause for RLS can be identified. Though studies have shown that it may be related to imbalance in the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical released by the nervous system to send messages to control muscle movement.
RLS for most part is not a serious condition, but more of just an annoyance. Though sometimes it can be related to other medical conditions, like peripheral neuropathy, iron deficiency, Parkinson’s disease, and renal failure. Pregnancy for some reason can worsen this syndrome.
I know I don’t have any other medical conditions related to RLS. I don’t have iron deficiency as I eat steel nails for breakfast. Not! I am also definitely sure that I’m not pregnant, for the last time I checked, I am a male. Just blame it on my genes.
RLS can be hereditary and runs in the family in at least half of the cases. Scientists have identified the site in our chromosomes where the genes for RLS may be located. So the problem is not just in the legs or in the brain, it is deep in our genes.
There are several medications that can be effective for RLS. Moreover there are plain lifestyle changes and home remedies that can help people with this disorder, like warm baths and massages, heating pads, relaxation techniques, exercise, and avoiding caffeine, alcohol and tobacco.
You may say, “Physician, heal thyself,” but I am not prescribing myself any medications. At least not yet. Besides I am not fond of taking pills. I prefer using lifestyle and simple remedies. I find that listening to relaxing music is very effective for me. A caressful rubbing from my wife also helps. If nothing else works, I just do my ‘horizontal’ Celtic dance in bed. And I am not even Irish.
My wife also suffers from some form of restless legs. She just have to walk it off. In the mall. Shopping. Is that genetic too?