You may be experiencing restless leg syndrome if you have itchy, crawling, aching, fidgety legs during the night making it impossible for you to sleep.
Although there is a connection to menopause, which I will explain further on, it appears that this condition can be incorrectly diagnosed by some doctors who are not familiar with sleep disorders. In particular, when consulted by women of a certain age, some doctors wrongly associate RLS with menopause. Furthermore, due to the fact that the symptoms don’t occur during the daytime and they are quite difficult to describe it is not surprising that an incorrect diagnosis can occur.
RLS can be connected to other health related conditions but research does show that restless leg syndrome is most common in pregnant and middle aged women along with smokers, caffeine addicts and diabetics. It is also caused by low iron levels which can occur in women experiencing heavy periods.
A very small number of the women I interviewed flagged up restless legs as a problem for them. Of those that did, it was mostly related to heavy periods, in particular, when their periods became irregular during perimenopause (the transitional 2-10 year stage leading up to actual menopause). One of the most common symptoms of menopause is irregular periods. In addition, having researched a number of women’s health forums I found the condition to be quite prevalent as a concern of women in perimenopause and interestingly they were experiencing the symptoms during the day as well as at night.
What is RLS?
Commonly known as (RLS), Restless Leg Syndrome is a condition, occurring most whilst at rest, involving episodes where women and men have an irresistible urge to move their legs and may have uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings in their legs. The condition can also affect the upper limbs.
Although RLS is a known neurological disorder, it is also known as a sleep disorder due to the fact that it can severely disrupt sleep.
Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) can be confused with Periodic Leg Movement Syndrome (PMLS).
PMLS is a similar disorder affecting up to 80% of RLS sufferers, however, not all PLMS sufferers have RLS.
The main differences are that RLS occurs when a patient is awake, preventing falling and staying asleep. PLMS is the involuntary twitching of legs during sleep (usually every 15-40 seconds) and can cause you to wake up repeatedly.
Does Menopause Cause Restless Leg Syndrome?
Firstly, we are talking about an association not a cause. Menopause does not cause RLS, as opposed to, for example, hot flushes and night sweats which are caused by menopause. Interestingly, a 2007 study published by Menopause states that 53% of women over 44 years of age who find it difficult to fall asleep also have this problem.
Due to the fluctuations of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone in the lead up to menopause, specifically, low estrogen levels, it is accepted that these levels can impede the absorption of estrogen, which helps our muscles to relax.
Women who suffer from heavy periods should get their iron levels tested by their healthcare professional who may decide to prescribe iron medication to be taken during periods. It is well documented and accepted that low iron levels can cause RLS.
Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome
• Electric Shock
• General Discomfort
• Prickling Sensation
• Urge to kick legs
• Creepy crawly feelings
If you are regularly suffering from these symptoms and are not menopausal it may be beneficial to get you blood sugar levels checked out.
Conditions Associated with RLS
• Iron levels
• Parkinson’s Disease
• Rheumatoid Arthritis
• Thyroid Disorders
• Kidney Function
• Peripheral Neuropathy
• Red and white blood cell count
Restless Leg Syndrome Treatment And Self Help Suggestions
Top of the list is walking during the day and stretching.
- Regular moderate exercise (walking will suffice) as excessive exercise can make the symptoms worse).
- Stretch your muscles by pointing your toes away from you.
- A walk before bedtime may help you to fall asleep. (I admit that’s a difficult one in the depths of winter!).
- Reduce caffeine intake.
- Avoid/reduce beverages containing caffeine: tea, soft drinks and chocolate.
- Reduce alcohol intake.
- If you smoke – quit (No need to say any more on this!).
- Try taking a hot bath.
- Massage your legs and feet before bedtime with almond or rosemary oil. Use circular kneading motions from the ankle upwards. If you can get someone to do it for you it will be more beneficial.
- Alternate between a heat pad and an ice pack.
- Have your blood tested to see if you require supplemental iron.
- Magnesium helps to relax muscles – try taking a magnesium and calcium supplement early evening. Use the menopause supplementation guide for further information on essential vitamins and minerals for women.
- Quinine in tonic water can help to lessen muscle contractions. Try drinking a small glass of tonic water (without the gin) before bedtime.
- Cayenne pepper capsules aid circulation and have an anti-cramping effect.
- Taking a high-strength Vitamin B complex supplement may help to calm nerve endings.
- Avoid excess white sugar as this causes blood sugar levels to fluctuate which can worsen symptoms.
- Try drinking herbal teas such as chamomile or lemon balm.
- You can buy magnetic therapy aids to wear inside your socks or shoes to help with circulation and help to reduce your night time symptoms.
- Try addressing your hormone imbalances with natural menopause solutions.
If you have tried some of the above suggestions and you are still experiencing any of the symptoms outlined above, you must consult with your Healthcare Professional who may consider it necessary to prescribe medication.
These may include:
• Muscle Relaxants
• Parkinson Disease Medication
• Epilepsy Medication
Some anti-depressant and anti-nausea medications may worsen symptoms. You will need to take advice from your Healthcare Professional if this is the case.
Your Healthcare Professional should monitor your symptoms and the effectiveness of the prescribed medication.
Wesstrom, J., Nilsson, S., et al. (Oct 2008) Restless legs syndrome among women: prevalence, co-morbidity and possible relationship to menopause. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18781488
Sieminski, M., Karwacka, M., Nyka, W. Restless Leg Syndrome and Hormonal Replacement Therapy in Women at Menopausal Age. Retrieved from http://www.neurology.org/cgi/content/meeting_abstract/78/1_MeetingAbstracts/P05.010
Eckhart, P. MD. Restless Leg Syndrome No Estrogen Pills: Estrogen Pills May Contribute to Restless Leg Syndrome. Retrieved from http://www.restlesslegsyndromecure.com/noestrogenpills.html
Pick, M., OB/GYN NP. What is Restless Leg Sydrome And How Can It Be Treated. Retrieved from https://www.womentowomen.com/fatigue-insomnia/what-is-restless-leg-syndrome-and-how-it-can-be-treated/
How RLS Affects Your Quality of Life. Retrieved from http://www.rls-uk.org/#!quality-of-life/ccri
Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/sleep/restless-leg-syndrome-rls.htm