The Difficulty of Diagnosing Restless Leg Syndrome

Even experienced doctors have difficulty making a definitive diagnosis of restless leg syndrome (RLS), thus, the frustration among many patients. But once it’s reached, both doctors and patients can agree on an effective symptom management program.

The Reasons for the Difficulty

The main reason for the difficulty is the ups and downs in severity of the symptoms of RLS. At the doctor’s office, the symptoms are less obvious because these become worse during the night when the patient is in his home.

The condition can also either appear or become worse during pregnancy but it can be dismissed as just part of being pregnant. People with diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and anemia are also more likely to have it (i.e. more common in these groups). But emphasis must also be made that even apparently healthy people without these health issues can experience its symptoms, too.

For these reasons, you and your doctor have to work closely together to determine if indeed your symptoms are due to RLS. Your doctor will likely not jump into conclusions since there may be other health issues underlying your set of symptoms.

The Criteria for Diagnosis

Doctors usually use a set of criteria to support a definitive diagnosis of RLS. The condition, also known as restless legs syndrome/Willis-Ekbom disease (RLS/WED), is characterized by the uncontrollable urge to move your legs. This is usually brought on by leg discomfort and happens either in the evenings when you’re lying or sitting down. Temporary relief can be had by moving your legs but it can disrupt your sleep resulting in daytime drowsiness.  

The criteria for RLS diagnosis include:  

  • You have a strong, often irresistible, urge to move your legs. Such urge can also be coupled by uncomfortable sensations in your legs, such as itching, pulling, creeping, gnawing, or tugging feelings.
  • Your symptoms become better as soon as you move your legs and for as long as you do so. Your relief may be partial or complete but it’s generally temporary in nature. Your sleep may be disturbed, too, since you will want to walk around or even just shake your legs.
  • Your symptoms either start or become worse when you’re resting.
  • Your symptoms are worse during the night, especially when you’re lying down in bed.

Fortunately, RLS is a treatable condition once it’s diagnosed. Your doctor will recommend a wholistic approach consisting of medication therapy – gabapentin is among the drugs prescribed for it – lifestyle changes, and coping mechanisms.  

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