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Is Restless Leg Syndrome Keeping You Awake?

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(Credit: KDKA)

(Credit: KDKA)

(Source: KDKA-TV) Dr. Maria Simbra
Dr. Maria Simbra is an Emmy award-winning medical journalist, who...
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CBS Pittsburgh (con't)

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Are you having trouble sleeping but can’t figure out why?

It could be your legs. It may sound bizarre, but doctors say it’s actually pretty common.

Eugene Johns couldn’t sleep, not because of his breathing but his legs.

“I don’t even remember a real, real good night sleep,” said Johns. “I’ve gone as far as jumping in a cold Jacuzzi to try to get rid of it.”

His worsening symptoms over the past 10 years are because of a condition called Restless Leg Syndrome. It’s more common than you may realize.

“Most literature says five to 15 percent,” said Dr. Daniel Shade, an Allegheny General Hospital Sleep specialist. “[It’s] very common in the general population.”

Many times, it’s not recognized because the symptoms are so general.

The key features can be remembered with the word “urge” -

  • The “urge” to move the legs,
  • When you’re “resting.”
  • It gets better if you “get up.”
  • And it’s only in the “evening.”

People often think it’s arthritis or their back. But it’s actually thought to be a brain problem, specifically, an issue with the chemical signals in the brain.

“We know giving dopamine-type drugs gets rid of the symptoms; and if we know patients are iron deficient, and you give them iron back, they do better as well,” says Dr. Shade.

While these effects have been seen, no one knows the exact cause.

“It’s a terrible feeling. You almost sometimes say, ‘if I have to go through life this way, I would rather have my feet cut off,’” Johns said.

There’s no specific test for it. The diagnosis is made by the symptoms.

A sleep study might be helpful to make sure you don’t have sleep apnea or a movement disorder. There’s really no distinctive sleep study finding what indicates Restless Leg Syndrome.

It tends to be more common in young to middle-aged women.

It can be treated with dopamine, iron or sometimes pain medicine. Also, while Restless Leg Syndrome can be painful, generally it is not.

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