Between 7% and 10% of the population in the United States may not be getting the restorative sleep they need due to restless legs syndrome (RLS). While RLS may not be painful, the unpleasant sensations in your legs that cause you to move them at night are frustrating, to say the least. To boot, people with untreated RLS are 20% less productive and more prone to anxiety and depression.
Treating restless legs is important for many reasons, not the least of which is figuring out whether the problem may be related to your cardiovascular health. To help shed some light, Dr. Satjit Bhusri and the team here at Upper East Side Cardiology take a closer look at nighttime problems with your legs.
Restless legs syndrome at a glance
The first step toward caring for your restless legs is to better understand what may be causing the problem. If it’s RLS, there are some characteristics that are unique to the condition, including:
- Uncomfortable sensations in your legs at night that are often described as crawling or creeping
- Irresistible urges to move your legs, which temporarily relieve the sensations
- The symptoms disappear for a period in the morning, at which point you can sleep soundly
While RLS typically strikes at night, you can experience symptoms during the day, especially if your legs are inactive for long periods.
The exact cause of RLS is unknown, but researchers believe that a dysfunction in the area of your brain that controls movement — the basal ganglia — likely plays a role.
Conditions that can be confused with RLS
While RLS is one path toward restless legs at night, you may be experiencing restless legs because of a vascular issue like varicose veins. If you have symptomatic varicose veins, you may develop a heaviness or ache in your legs that can flare at night when you lie down.
As well, if you have peripheral vascular disease, blood flow to your legs is compromised, which can lead to leg discomfort at night.
Another condition that flares at night are leg cramps. These involuntary muscle contractions cause a good deal of brief pain before they subside. Leg cramps are distinct and fleeting events, unlike RLS or leg pain due to cardiovascular issues.
Diagnosing your restless legs
As you can see, it’s important that you seek our help if you’re experiencing problems with your legs at night. After a review of your symptoms, we perform a thorough physical examination, including testing and imaging, that will help us identify the underlying problem.
Once we have a better idea about what’s causing your restless legs, we can start you on an appropriate treatment program, which may include medications, supplements, and lifestyle changes.
To underscore the importance of treating a condition like RLS, one study found that the condition does have an association with future cardiovascular disease risk, but treating the RLS led to a statistically significant reduction in risk.
If we find that varicose veins are causing your nighttime problems, our Vein Institute offers a number of vein treatments that can quickly remedy the problem.
If you want to get a good night’s sleep, it’s time to figure out what’s behind your restless legs. To get started, please call our New York City office on the Upper East Side at (212) 752-3464 to schedule a consultation.