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How To Help Someone With RLS

Restless legs syndrome is a rare but potentially debilitating illness if its symptoms are ignored. From unexplained itchiness to an uncontrollable urge to move to disrupted sleep, it can lower quality of life for the person who has it and anyone they meet. If you know someone with this condition, there are ways to help.

You Can Help Someone With Restless Legs Syndrome: Here Is How

Helping someone with restless legs syndrome is not as hard as you think. It may require time, effort, and compassion, but offering a sympathetic shoulder to lean on can go a long way. Here is what else you can do.

Help educate your friend about RLS

One of the best ways to treat any medical problem, besides getting help from a licensed professional, is to educate your friend and yourself about the condition in question. Broadly speaking, most Americans are wholly unaware of what certain medical conditions are, what causes them, and what treatment options are available. As a result, there is widespread ignorance and stigma about medical problems, which makes enlightenment difficult.

Here are the basics about restless legs syndrome. Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a condition leading to an overpowering urge to move your legs, generally due to an uncomfortable feeling. It typically occurs after dusk or during nighttime hours when you are resting. Unfortunately, the movement offers only temporary relief.

Restless legs syndrome, also called Willis-Ekbom disease, can happen regardless of age and generally worsens the older you get.

Make sure you and your friend understand the physical sensations involved

Just because your friend has a pins and needles sensation does not mean an RLS diagnosis will follow. Knowing how the condition makes a person feels is key to identifying what is wrong and may help with diagnosis and treatment options. Any of the feelings listed below may indicate restless legs syndrome, so if you notice these in your friend, speak up. There may be feelings of crawling, creeping, aching, pulling, throbbing, itching, and an electrical sensation in the legs or feet.

Talk about possible causes

Many Americans do not like to talk about their illnesses, let alone what may cause them, but having a good idea of what could be triggering RLS makes diagnosis and effective treatment more likely. This condition may be caused by:

  • Heredity factors. Sometimes RLS is common in families, especially if it begins prior to age 40. Chromosomal problems could be a reason for restless legs syndrome.
  • Pregnancy or hormonal fluctuations can worsen RLS signs and symptoms in the short term. Some women experience RLS initially during pregnancy, especially in the last trimester. But symptoms typically subside after delivery.

Encourage your friend to be open to alternative treatment options

Not everyone with restless legs syndrome wants professional medical attention. Some people may avoid seeing a healthcare provider for religious or other reasons. Still, if you care about that person’s wellness, you owe it to them to talk about what can help ease pain symptoms besides ketamine or other medicine. Here are self-help remedies worth talking about.

  • Try a warm bath or invigorating massage to relieve tension in the legs and relax the muscles.
  • There is nothing wrong with applying warm or cool packs to the affected limbs, as alternating between the two may lessen uncomfortable limb sensations.
  • Encourage your friend to sleep more often and adopt healthy sleep habits. This means doing away with fatigue. Promote the benefits of a cool, noise-free, and comfortable sleeping environment; a regular daily sleep time; and getting seven or more hours of sleep every 24 hours.
  • Encourage your friend to become more physically active. Getting moderate, regular exercise can reduce symptoms of RLS, but over-extending one’s self can have the opposite effect and worsen symptoms. 
  • Your friend is a caffeine freak, so the best thing you can do is help them slowly wean themselves from the habit. Help them avoid caffeine-containing foods and beverages, like chocolate, coffee, tea, and soda, for a few weeks as a trial.
  • Steer your friend in the direction of online RLS help resources and local organizations, including the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation and the American Thoracic Society, for more information.

Encourage your friend to see a medical professional for diagnosis and learn about other treatment options. If any of the methods above failed, it is time to seek an unbiased opinion from someone who specializes in treating RLS patients. If your friend still needs help, offer to provide transportation to and from the doctor’s office.