If you have fibromyalgia, there’s a good chance you’re also dealing with restless leg syndrome (RLS). In fact, the American College of Rheumatology says that 56% of those suffering from fibromyalgia also experience restless leg syndrome. But first, what exactly is RLS?
Well, it’s characterized by uncomfortable sensations in the legs, especially while sitting or lying down. The sensations can range from discomfort to painful. It also includes an irresistible urge to move the affected limb. The urge to move the limb occurs because the movement actually relieves the discomfort. Most patients with RLS experience symptoms that are worse at night. Ironically, when your body is gearing up to relax and rejuvenate, your legs might feel like they are throbbing or pulling and you have an uncontrollable urge to move them. Many RLS patients have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep because of the need to move and the discomfort, pain, or agitation. Some pace the floor. Others simply toss and turn all night trying to relieve the leg discomfort. But nearly all of them suffer from sleep deprivation.
The Fibromyalgia and RLS Connection
Are you starting to see the connection? Even if it’s still a little unclear, you can’t miss the relation to sleep deprivation and fibromyalgia. You know that when you don’t sleep well, your fibromyalgia symptoms are much worse, right? So then it should come as no surprise that a 2010 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine showed a significant correlation between fibromyalgia and RLS. Specifically, those with fibromyalgia had a much high prevalence and risk of restless leg syndrome. But not necessarily the other way around.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine explains further: “Sleep disruption is common in fibromyalgia, and often difficult to treat,” said contributing author Dr. Nathanial F. Watson, associate professor of neurology at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. “It is apparent from our study that a substantial portion of sleep disruption in fibromyalgia is due to restless leg syndrome” (emphasis added).
Don’t mistake this as a diagnosis. Just because you have fibromyalgia does not automatically mean you have RLS. Remember that about 56% of fibro patients do, however. Meaning that there is definitely a good chance. And as Dr. Watson went on to add: “Since restless leg syndrome is a treatable condition, diagnosing and treating RLS in fibromyalgia patients has the potential to improve their sleep.”
There is no specific test for restless leg syndrome. However, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the four criteria are:
- Symptoms that are worse at night and are absent or negligible in the morning;
- A strong and often overwhelming need or urge to move the affected limb(s), often associated with paresthesias or dysesthesias;
- Sensory symptoms that are triggered by rest, relaxation, or sleep; and
- Sensory symptoms that are relieved with movement and the relief persists as long as the movement continues.
Treatment for fibromyalgia and RLS
Restless leg syndrome is typically addressed by relieving the symptoms. In some cases, symptoms are controlled by identifying and treating associated conditions like diabetes or peripheral neuropathy. Medications are often helpful, but there is apparently no single medication that works for all RLS patients. You and your doctor may have to experiment to find which one works best for you. In fact, you may even find you need to change medications periodically as they often lose their potency for treating your RLS symptoms after a time. Of course, lifestyle changes are always encouraged. Everything from decreasing alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco to getting more exercise and massaging the legs.
The key here is to talk this over with your healthcare practitioner. If you you think you have fibromyalgia and RLS, then getting the right treatment can have a radical impact on your fibromyalgia symptoms. That is to say, addressing restless legs throughout the night will lead to better sleep. And better sleep leads to minimizing other fibromyalgia symptoms.
So, do you see now? Treating RLS can make a huge difference in your quality of life as a fibro patient as well. Have you been treated for fibromyalgia and RLS? Did it improve your sleep and your fibromyalgia symptoms? Tell us about it your fibromyalgia and RLS.