What is Restless Legs Syndrome?
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a condition that causes the uncontrollable urge to move your legs generally due to an uncomfortable sensation. It is a neurological disorder that impacts the brain, spine & connecting nerve tissues. It can create an uncontrollable urge to move your legs in response to pain or discomfort. This typically happens in the evening or during the night while you are sitting or lying down. Generally, movement eases the unpleasant sensations.
Could my child have Restless Legs Syndrome?
This syndrome can begin at any age and generally worsens as you get older. In the US it is reported that up to 1.5 million children have been diagnosed with the syndrome.
What are the symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome in children?
Typically you would see it taking children who are experiencing the syndrome taking longer to fall asleep due to discomfort and the need to move. They may also have issues around staying asleep which could in turn create increased daytime fatigue due to the cycle of broken sleep.
- Leg discomfort – uncomfortable leg sensations that child describes as creeping, crawling, itching, pulling, tugging, burning, or gnawing?
- Need to move – they need to move, wiggle, or kick to relieve the sensations
- Sleep disruption – as detailed above these symptoms can be worse in the evening and night and can create sleep disruption.
- Falling asleep in the day – due to the sleep disruption at night perhaps your child is falling asleep during the day where structured napping has passed?
- Behavioral issues – not just around bedtime but perhaps at other times of the day. If sleep is disrupted you may see increased issues around anger, anxiety, concentration, etc.
What causes Restless Legs Syndrome?
The causes of RLS in children and adults vary. A genetic factor exists and it can be hereditary in families. Approx. 80% of children who are diagnosed with RLS have one direct family member who also has signs of the illness. Other factors that can contribute include;
- Iron deficiency – Iron is essential for the proper functioning of our neurotransmitters and in studies, iron deficiency is a contributing factor in cases of RLS in both adults and children.
- Peripheral neuropathy – pain, numbness, or weakness in limbs due to nerve damage.
- Uremia – a condition of high urea in the blood
- Medications including antidepressants, sedative antihistamines, serotonin inhibitors
How can you treat Restless Legs Syndrome?
There is no specific treatment for RLS. There have been medications trailed however the long-term risk factors of use of these medications in children q re not known. Iron deficiency has to be considered and treated under the guidance of a medical professional.
At home you could try the following to help ease symptoms;
- Engage in light evening activity such as walking, jogging, yoga, or playing in the garden. This may help to alleviate the impact of the syndrome in the evening time.
- Ensure that you establish a very regular bedtime, sleep, and daily routine. This will help to promote good sleep and also give you a structure to see what could be contributing to what is happening.
- Massage legs with restful essential oils such as lavender or copaiba before bed or during an RLS session to help to ease sensations.
- Limit sugar in your child’s diet. Studies have shown that where there is a high consumption of sugar this can worsen the symptoms of RLS in children.
- By trying to identify the triggers you could go a long way to controlling the impact of RLS on your child long term.
What should I do if I think my child has Restless Legs Syndrome?
Start by keeping a log or diary of what is happening. If your child can articulate to you how they are feeling start to write down the words they are using and what is happening while they are in discomfort. Then make an appointment to see your family doctor to discuss the symptoms. You may then be referred to a pediatrician for further investigation which could include a stay in a sleep clinic if sleep disruption is a factor.