Have you ever been inflicted by your legs twitching at night? Are the twitches waking you up at night causing you to be tired and restless? Leg twitching can be caused by a couple of different things. Though twitching of legs can be annoying it usually isn’t very serious. Sometimes you may not even be unaware that your legs are even twitching at night. Leg twitching can be caused by muscle spasms or leg cramps caused by overuse. Other causes could be pregnancy, diabetes, thyroid, peripheral artery disease, or cancer. There are two other causes of leg twitching at night, one periodic limb movement disorder, or restless leg syndrome.
Restless Leg Syndrome
Restless leg syndrome is when you have uncontrollable movements in your legs. These uncontrollable movements usually happen in the evening or nighttime. People with restless leg syndrome usually have a sensation feeling in their legs. The sensation feels different to everyone, some people have described the feeling as crawling, creeping, pulling, throbbing, aching, itching, or electric feeling. Usually the sensation happens after sitting for a long time or sleeping. Restless leg syndrome is not a serious condition, but it can be annoying, and can lead you to feel unrested and irritable.
There is no known cause for restless leg syndrome. Though it could be related to genetics. If you have a family history of restless leg syndrome then your chances of getting it are higher. Restless leg syndrome affects about 10% of adults. Though restless leg syndrome can affect anyone at any age, though it tends to get worse with increasing age. It is more common in women than men. Pregnancy can also cause you to have restless leg syndrome. With the increase in hormone changes, it can lead to the leg twitching, this usually goes away after pregnancy. There are some underlying conditions such as spinal cord condition, iron deficiency, or kidney failure.
If you believe you have this your doctor will do a physical examination, and possible a neurological exam. Sometimes your doctor will want to do a sleep study as well. Once you are diagnosed your doctor will have treatment options. If you have an underlying condition causing the restless leg syndrome your doctor will look into treating those to help with your symptoms. If you have an iron deficiency your iron levels will be monitored and you may need to take iron supplements. If there are no underlying conditions then you will need to make some lifestyle changes. These can include for you to make sure you exercise regularly. You may also want to avoid caffeine. Baths or leg massages may help relax your muscles.
Periodic Limb Movement Disorder
Another cause of leg twitches could be periodic limb movement disorder, or PLMD. This is when you have uncontrollable twitching of legs and arms during sleep. PLMD can be associated with restless leg syndrome too. But not everyone with PLMD has restless leg syndrome. About 80% of people with restless leg syndrome suffer from PLMD as well. PLMD is when you have uncontrollable limb movement every 20-40 seconds that can then last for several minutes or hours. These movements are uncontrollable so you cannot stop them. These twitches can affect your sleep and sometimes even wake you up. PLMD usually affects older adults, but affects women and men equally. It only affects less than 2% of people under thirty. Though it affects 40% of people sixty-five and older.
There is no known cause for periodic limb movement syndrome. Periodic limb movement syndrome though most commonly causing the legs to twitch can cause the legs to twitch as well. Though there is no known cause there are somethings that can contribute to PLMD. These include caffeine intake, antidepressants, anti-nausea drugs, lithium, anticonvulsants, narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, ADHD, spinal cord injury, anemia, or diabetes.
If you have PLMD some symptoms to look for are repetitive limb movement during sleep, restlessness, unrested sleep, awakening during the night, daytime sleepiness, irritability, and even inability to focus. If you have any of these symptoms your doctor will want to run some tests. Most likely they will want to do a sleep study. If you have an underlying condition that leads to your PLMD then your doctor will treat that condition to see if it helps lessen your symptoms. Just like with restless leg syndrome, you will need to do some lifestyle changes. Try to avoid caffeine, reduce stress, monitor iron levels, and keep up a regular exercise. Periodic limb movement syndrome is not serious, but it can be very hard to live with, especially when it is affecting your sleep. Consult your doctor if you have any symptoms.
Not all leg twitches though are from restless leg syndrome, or periodic limb movement disorder. Sometimes leg twitches are sleep myoclonus. This is the involuntary twitching on your legs with no underlying causes or conditions during the night. Though some leg twitches can be minor and you may be unaware they are even happening, some can be strong enough to affect your sleep. Sleep myoclonus is understood as twitching caused by the excessive reaction from the brain that controls muscle movement, and this can be stimulated from light, sound, or other stimuli. No matter the reason behind your leg twitching you may need some relief and want to stop it. Try skipping the caffeine but not the exercise. Make sure you manage your stress levels, you can try and meditate before going to sleep. Another way to help control your leg twitching is to have a scheduled regular sleep pattern. Reach out to your doctor if you have uncontrollable leg twitching that concerns you.
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