Primary RLS vs Secondary RLS

Before we discuss the differences of Primary RLS and Secondary RLS, let's define Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). RLS is defined as a central nervous system disorder that interrupts resting or sleeping. In 2003, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) defined RLS as:

  1. an urge to move the limbs with or without sensations
  2. improvement with activity
  3. worsening at rest
  4. worsening in the evening or night

If you suffer with RLS, you know these symptoms all too well. Perhaps you feel twitches and sensations in your arms, calves, chest, feet, hands, legs, thighs, or torso.

What RLS Feels Like

Creeping, crawling, jerky, jumpy, pins and needles, pulling, tingling. Do any of these words describe your frustration? Some may say it's an overwhelming urge or an uncontrollable sensation.

What Happens If You Ignore RLS

RLS won't go away just because you claim ignorance or wallow in denial. If RLS isn't addressed, it will result in daytime sleepiness, insomnia, and restlessness. When your body doesn't get the rest it needs, you are more susceptible to cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, and mood swings, to name a few. It's important to talk to your health care professional to discuss self-management tips if you think you are experiencing RLS symptoms.

What Causes Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

Genetics is blamed for 60% of all RLS cases. While the cause of RLS is largely unknown, there are many known factors that aggravate or worse RLS symptoms. They include:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Certain antidepressants
  • Certain medications
  • Diabetes
  • Diet
  • Heavy metal toxicity
  • Hormone disease
  • Iron deficiency
  • Kidney failure
  • Mineral deficiency
  • Nerve disease
  • Overweight
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Toxins
  • Vitamin deficiency

How RLS Can Affect Your Daily Activities

Because RLS tends to disrupt peaceful sleeping patterns, the sufferer often experiences an inability to perform daily activities, daytime sleepiness, and mood disturbance.

Primary Restless Legs Syndrome

Primary RLS is defined as idiopathic, which means "with no known cause." Primary RLS may start in early adulthood, but generally affects people in their early- to mid-40s. However, it can appear at any age. Primary RLS may be here today and gone tomorrow. It may be present for months and then disappear for months. Primary RLS is gradual at its onset. As the person ages, Primary RLS tends to progress. Primary RLS runs in families.

Secondary Restless Legs Syndrome

Secondary RLS is sudden. Secondary RLS can often appears in the late-40s. However, like Primary RLS, Secondary RLS can happen at any age. Secondary RLS is more often caused by a certain medical condition or certain medications. Medications often associated with the onset of Secondary RLS include: allergy, anti-nausea, anti-seizure, cold, lithium, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and tricyclic antidepressants. Ironically, the withdrawal from certain sedatives may aggravate RLS symptoms.

Your Life After RLS

It's completely possible to live a functional, normal, healthy life with RLS. Make the lifestyle changes you can live with and incorporate some of these self-help tips and live your life. And live it well.


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