Healthy Living

Connecting Restless Leg Syndrome with Fibromyalgia

Connecting Restless Leg Syndrome with Fibromyalgia

In terms of the medical world, a plethora of findings have been made that have identified key connections between certain diseases and the unique symptoms they may very well bring about.  A specific case has to do with fibromyalgia and a link to what is known as restless legs syndrome (RLS).  An intensive study looked at this relationship, wherein it was discovered that adults who have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia had a much higher prevalence as well as risk for restless legs syndrome.  Researchers contributing to the study believed that treating restless legs syndrome may very well be the key factor in reducing the painful symptoms associated with the condition.

The study conducted roughly 7 years ago made its appearance in the October 15th issue of “Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine” and looked at the higher prevalence of and risk of restless leg syndrome if one had already been diagnosed with fibromyalgia.  Among the population who had participated in the study, those in the fibromyalgia group had shown a prevalence of restless leg syndrome that was roughly ten times higher than those without fibromyalgia.  The patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia had also unsurprisingly reported significant disruptions in sleep (a common occurrence with fibromyalgia patients, due to the painful symptoms that come with the disease). 

The study utilized what is known as the Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index, as well as the Insomnia Severity Index and Epworth Sleepiness Scale, in order to determine the severities of each patient's sleep complications.  In regards to these various disruptions in sleep due to fibromyalgia, Dr. Nathaniel F. Watson, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington stated, “Sleep disruption is common in fibromyalgia, and often difficult to treat… It is apparent from our study that a substantial portion of sleep disruption in fibromyalgia is due to restless legs syndrome."

The research that analyzed this promising connection between restless leg syndrome and fibromyalgia was led by the previously mentioned Dr. Watson, as well as the lead author Dr. Mari Viola-Saltzman of Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois.  A total of 172 patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia were compared against 63 healthy individuals without the condition.  The mean age of the fibromyalgia patients observed in the study was 50 years of age, 93 percent of which were female.  As for the healthy patients observed in the research, the mean age was 41 years old.

The researchers were able to select the fibromyalgia patients for observation based upon either their own reporting or medical records seen in their respective files.  These patients' diagnosis was then confirmed via observation, of which conformed to the published guidelines having to do with the prevalence of pain considered to be chronic and widespread.  The respective feelings of pain in each patient was examined based upon a subjective report as well as an objective measurement with what is known as a dolorimeter.  The device consists of a spring-loaded gauge that serves the purpose of identifying certain painful points in a patient.  This is done by applying standardized rates of pressure to specific tender point on both the arms and legs of a patient being tested for pain.

What is fibromyalgia and restless legs syndrome?

Fibromyalgia is classified by feelings of widespread pain, normally experienced in the joints of  the body. It is the single most common pain disorder experienced in the United States, with roughly 50 million citizens having reported having the condition.  For the pain to be considered widespread, the experience must be on both sides of the body.  The condition is often misdiagnosed, and as mentioned earlier can even go unnoticed for a number of years.  This is due in part to the fact that the condition can be confused being overstressed, lacking sleep, as well as other experiences that can be very common and reasonable to encounter with no serious health problems. In terms of women with fibromyalgia, the symptoms of the condition pose the potential for confusion with the regular feelings brought on by pregnancy.

Throughout the span of time, medical professionals have sought to refine the way in which fibromyalgia is diagnosed.  With this, healthcare facilities have conducted a wide variety of techniques to identify the pain disorder. The first of these methods included an evaluation known as the “tender point exam,” a test that consists of a doctor pressing on a series of specific points across the patient's body.  At each point, the doctor attempts to identify the specific regions where the patient may be experiencing their respective pain.

Over time, however, new techniques were put into place that enabled a more efficient process in identifying specific points of pain in a patient. One of the current baselines used for identifying fibromyalgia in patients is if the affected individual experiences pain for more than three months with no other medical condition relating to the pain felt during the given time period. One of the other widely accepted methods has included blood types that serve the purpose of exposing key characteristics within the patient that ultimately serve as signs of the pain disorder.

The primary symptom associated with restless leg symptom is the urge to move one’s legs, which normally due to certain sensations.  In most cases, this condition occurs at later parts of the day, such as the afternoon or evening.  These symptoms commonly associated with restless legs syndrome can sometimes only be experienced when sitting or lying down.  Some of the repercussions that come with the condition can include, as mentioned before, problems with sleeping.  This poses other potential risks for patients, as the likelihood of experiencing insomnia and other sleep-related symptoms increases.  The frequency of the symptoms mentioned can vary from one patient to another, as some individuals may encounter them every night, whereas others may not.

As of this time, the cause of restless legs syndrome has not been identified.  The previously mentioned may break this, as fibromyalgia may be a cause and/or a common comorbidity.  Some research pertaining to the cause of restless legs syndrome point to damage within the blood vessels of the legs as being a catalyst for the conditions.  Another theory suggest nerve damage in the legs as being a source, but both theories have been rejected by researchers at this point.

The future for patients with restless legs syndrome and fibromyalgia

The future for patients diagnosed with both fibromyalgia and sleep leg syndrome can ultimately depend on the research conducted for the phenomenon.  As previously alluded to, the link may provide a key insight for both patients and a variety of medical professionals, as the cause for restless leg syndrome has yet to be pinpointed to any specific characteristics in patients.  In the meantime however, patients must pay close attention to their respective symptoms and how best to treat them. 

As the variety of symptoms can vary, the treatments can also differ.  This being said, the catch-all for every patient is the same.  Every individual, both with health conditions or not, should always do their best in maintaining healthy lifestyles.  This can include moderate exercise, as well as planned, nutritious diets.  Doing so can ultimately prevent inflammation and pain experienced in the joints, as well as enable better oxygen supply for patients with any health condition.