Q: For the past five years I have been suffering from awful crawling sensations in my legs at night. It keeps me awake and I often have to jump out of bed and walk around in order to get rid of them. It's driving me and my husband crazy. What can I do to fix this?
A: You are suffering from a disorder called restless leg syndrome. We define this as having unpleasant sensations in the legs on relaxing or before sleep, relieved only by movement. People say they feel a crawling, creeping, pulling, itching or stretching sensation in their legs. It usually affects both legs and generally affects below the knees. Unbearably, these symptoms develop just when the tired unfortunate individual wants to relax or sleep.
Restless legs syndrome is a common yet under-diagnosed condition. Around one in every 12 people experience these feelings while the older person is most often affected. Frequently, people do not report it to their doctor and instead choose to soldier on in silence.
In most cases, the cause of the disorder is unknown. In some cases, however, low levels of iron are responsible. People with restless legs have lower iron levels in their blood than people without restless legs and correcting their iron levels, with oral iron, reduces their symptoms. It is worth your while to have your GP check your iron levels.
Restless legs also occur in people with kidney disease and diabetes. Again a simple blood test with your GP will exclude both of these. Check if any of your siblings have the same problem, because restless legs run in families.
Here is an exercise you can do. Gently stretch your calf muscles before bed by leaning against a wall with your heel still on the ground. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds. Repeat a few times. Other exercises and recommendations can be found at the restless legs foundation website www.rls.org.
If these measures fail and the unpleasant sensations are really quite severe, then your family doctor may prescribe medications such as pramipexole (Mirapex) or ropinirole (Requip). In some people, these medications can be very effective at controlling symptoms but are not without side-effects.