COVID-19 Diaries (Part 30): Decrypting Restless Leg Syndrome & Possible Connections To COVID

covid restless leg syndrome
Contributed by: Rachana Arya

 

What is Restless Leg Syndrome?

RLS is a sensory and motor condition that causes difficulty in initiating and maintaining sleep. The disorder is characterized by overwhelming discomfort in the limbs at night. The symptom is followed by an intense, often irresistible urge to move the legs due to an unpleasant sensation in them. The sensations are described as:

 

  • Creeping
  • Crawling
  • Burning
  • Aching
  • Itching
  • Tingling
  • Tugging 
  • Pulling
  • Throbbing

 

These feelings are most common when lying down in bed or sitting for lengthy periods of time, such as while driving or watching a movie. The most serious concern for people with RLS is that it usually manifests itself in the evening, making it difficult to sleep. This results in a lack of energy during the day, mood swings, and difficulty in carrying routine activities. RLS and sleep fragmentation, combined together can put you at risk for other health problems, including depression if not treated. 

 

Correlations between the two

COVID-19 may not be immediately linked to restless leg syndrome. However, it has been actively searched online during the present pandemic. Studies demonstrate that behavioral and metabolic changes caused by COVID-19 might worsen or trigger symptoms of RLS in predisposed people. 

 

Reasons for RLS

Although no conclusive studies establishing a direct linkage between RLS and COVID-19, have yet been published, a few research studies elucidate some plausible possibilities. As per various studies, the epidemic is linked to anxiety and sadness, and being distressed in general is a restless leg stimulator. 

 

  • The pandemic has been emotionally draining for many people, and I believe that this is why it appears to be provoking RLS.
  • During the pandemic, many people stayed at home and avoided physical activity, and this sedentary lifestyle may be aggravating RLS.
  • COVID-19 survivors may be more likely to have RLS due to inflammatory changes throughout the body. RLS is extremely sensitive to inflammation in general.

 

Primary Symptoms

RLS is far from a one-size-fits-all condition. The cause can differ from one patient to the next and is frequently unknown.

There are four basic symptoms that everyone with RLS experiences:

 

  • An impulse to move one’s legs that is frequently accompanied by some sort of discomfort or unpleasant feeling.
  • Symptoms worsening in the evening or at night, when sleeping or awake
  • Symptoms go worse when you’re sleeping, whether it’s during the day or at night
  • Partial relief of symptoms after some physical activity 

 

Secondary Symptoms:

Furthermore, there are several secondary symptoms that aren’t universal but occur in a large number of patients:

 

  • Bursts of muscle activity in the feet and legs (occurring in 80% of restless leg syndrome patients)
  • Sleep disturbance as restless legs leads to disruption in sleep

 

Home care Interventions

Patients with RLS might attempt some of these treatments at home to get some relief:

 

Engage in proper sleeping habits. Restless legs can be triggered and worsened by a change in or disruption of sleep. There are myriad ways to upgrade your sleep patterns. Following these very simple sleep hygiene practices helps restless leg sufferers reduce their symptoms by 30 to 50 percent of the time. Practice the following appropriate sleeping habits:

 

  • Stick to a night of consistent sleep and a wake-up schedule.
  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine and alcohol, especially near bedtime.
  • At least three hours before night, stop eating.
  • Make your bed comfortable and conducive to sleep.
  • Avoid emotionally heated discussions and stressors at least 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Minimize screen time in the hour leading up to bedtime.
  • Avoid taking too many naps during the day.

 

More Suggested Home Remedies

Other recommendations for relieving RLS at home:

 

  • Warm compresses or immersion in a warm bath for half an hour or so prior to bedtime are beneficial to some people, while others find it to be too unpleasant; for them, a cold compress might be beneficial.
  • A relaxing massage provided by a bed partner, a family member, or a low-cost massage machine
  • Distract yourself with something you enjoy, such as reading a book or meditating, or anything else that can divert your attention away from your restless legs.
  • Close to bedtime, exercise or other physical activities can help. Although gyms are closed, by maintaining at least some level of physical activity – preferably close to bedtime may help.  We know that insomniacs are advised against this, but in the case of restless legs, a half-hour stroll on a treadmill or around the home prior to bedtime may be beneficial.

 

When to seek expert advice

Consider consulting a physician online who specializes in sleep medicine if none of the aforementioned home methods provide enough help. Don’t wait until RLS has become unbearable to the point that you can’t sleep for nights on end — seek help. The earlier RLS symptoms are addressed, the greater your chances of preventing RLS from developing!

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