Rest­less legs syn­drome

It feels like bub­bles in your blood­stream and af­fects one in four preg­nant women. Here’s what you need to know about RLS.

Mother & Baby (Australia) - - Contents -

Got a jit­tery feel­ing in your pins? Find out how to deal with this com­mon preg­nancy symp­tom

You’re just about to drop off to sleep when it strikes – that tin­gling, jit­tery sen­sa­tion in your legs that means you just can’t keep them still. This is rest­less legs syn­drome (RLS), also known as Wil­lis-Ek­bom dis­ease, and it’s a com­mon com­plaint in preg­nancy. Be­cause it’s usu­ally worse when you’re sit­ting or ly­ing down to­wards the end of the day, it can rob you of pre­cious rest and sleep. “Suf­fer­ers typ­i­cally ex­pe­ri­ence an itch­ing or burn­ing feel­ing in their legs, al­most as if some­thing is crawl­ing up them,” says Dr Ju­lian Spinks. Symp­toms have been likened to hav­ing Coca-Cola bub­bling through your blood­stream.

“Re­sist­ing the urge to move your legs is as dif­fi­cult as eat­ing a dough­nut with­out lick­ing your lips,” he says.

“Move­ment makes the sen­sa­tion dis­ap­pear, but it only of­fers tem­po­rary re­lief. The prob­lem can be ex­tremely un­com­fort­able, in­ter­rupt­ing sleep and leav­ing you feel­ing tired and washed-out.”

Al­though the symp­toms are in your legs, the con­di­tion is thought to orig­i­nate in your brain. “RLS is linked to dopamine, a neu­ro­trans­mit­ter that sends sig­nals be­tween nerve cells,” ex­plains Ju­lian. “A rel­a­tive lack of dopamine in one part of the brain fools the body into think­ing there’s a prob­lem else­where. Peo­ple may imag­ine that their un­born baby is press­ing on a nerve, or is af­fect­ing their cir­cu­la­tion, but there’s no ev­i­dence that this is the case.

“The prob­lem can af­fect any­one, at any age, al­though preg­nancy seems to be a par­tic­u­lar trig­ger. The­o­ries as to why this is so in­clude a lack of iron or folic acid, or a rise in oe­stro­gen lev­els, which pos­si­bly af­fects the sen­si­tiv­ity of some brain cells to dopamine. It can oc­cur at any stage of preg­nancy, often per­sist­ing un­til the baby is de­liv­ered.

“As ir­ri­tat­ing as the symp­toms may be, they’re harm­less and won’t af­fect your preg­nancy or your baby. They should dis­ap­pear soon af­ter the birth.”

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