Is Your Child Suffering From Restless Legs?

Published: 26th June 2015
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RLS In Children

Childhood onset restless leg syndrome (RLS) is very hard on both children and their loved ones.

What To Expect With Childhood Restless Legs

While experiencing restless legs is bad enough, secondary effects from lack of ample sleep can be especially damaging to children. Uncontrolled, experiencing RLS as a child can cause various social development problems. These problems include:

-aggression
-inattention
-hyperactivity
-daytime drowsiness
-poor scholastic performance
-abnormal social behavior

Given that many of these are common symptoms of other conditions or psychiatric disease, health care professionals often misdiagnose juvenile restless leg syndrome as other illnesses, the most common of which is attention-deficit hyperactivity/disorder (ADHD).

Identifying RLS In Children

Restless legs syndrome in kids is believed to be under-diagnosed. In other words, it's frequently missed, dismissed, or diagnosed as simply 'growing pains' that will fade with time. There is no diagnostic test that can confirm the RLS. An exact medical diagnosis relies solely on the sufferer's ability to properly report to the physician what it is he or she is feeling, and the doctor's ability to identify the signs of restless legs.

According to the National Institute of Health little ones frequently use the following terms when reporting the sensations related to restless legs syndrome:

Typical Wording Children Use To Describe RLS.

-creepy crawlies
-owies
-hurts
-pulling apart
-energy in legs
-pains
-aches
-tickle
-spiders
-boo-boos

Problems Identifying Restless Legs In Children

As pointed out earlier, a concrete identification of restless leg syndrome in your child is tough to make. Below are some of the more common diseases which can be confused with RLS in your child:

Growing Pains

Growing pains are defined as, "Ill-defined limb discomforts in children that do not meet criteria for other diagnoses, such as arthritis, other bone and joint pathology, peripheral neuropathy, and radiculopathy."

While growing pains are very comparable to RLS in that they tend to strike at night, they are different in that moving ones legs doesn't usually bring any apparent relief to the feelings. Growing pains are often associated with throbbing pains in the calf, thigh or behind the knee, and an anti-inflammatory such as aspirin, acetaminophen or ibuprofen will usually offer relief to your suffering child.

Motor Tics

Common muscle tics include blinking, twitches in the face, shrugging, or leg jerking. Tics are believed to be a genetic neurological disorder in children and commonly fade by the time your child reaches maturity.

PLMD

Children suffering from PLMD will have fragmented and impaired quality of sleep. The symptoms will seem similar to those that your child might have if they suffer from restless legs.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

The precise relationship between RLS, PLMD, and ADHD is poorly understood. Children with any one, or all, of these diseases can suffer from mood changes, irritability, body restlessness and hyperactivity. Children with ADHD suffer from RLS and PMLD more often, and all tend to respond to drugs designed to boost dopamine production in the brain. There is a link between RLS and PLMD frequently are seen in children diagnosed with ADHD. ADHD is frequently overdiagnosed, and if your child is suspected to be suffering from ADHD it may be a good idea to have them evaluated for RLS or PLMD by a specialist or pediatric neurologist.

Akathisia

Like RLS, Akathisia consists of a sensation of inner restlessness followed by an urge to move. It differs from RLS in that it is usually a drug induced adverse side effect of anti-psychotic drugs and does not present more frequently at night.

Leg Cramps

Unlike RLS, leg cramps are typically considered to be very painful and usually focus on one muscle group like the calf, hamstring and quadricep. Like RLS leg cramps can commonly occur at night.

Osgood-Schlatter's Disease

Osgood-Schlatter's manifests as complaints of knee pain that tend to get worse after extensive kneeling or other movements of the knee. Children are typically early teen to pre-teen when the disease is first noted. The disease does not tend to get worse in the evenings like RLS. If you suspect your child is suffering from Osgood Schlatter's over the counter anti-inflammatory medications should relieve their suffering temporarily. For cases that persist you may want to consult a qualified physician, or a specialist, such as an orthopedist for a more complete diagnosis.

Chondromalacia Patella

Unlike RLS, pain is focused at the joint of the knee and movement is what causes the pain, not relieves it. Some physical therapy can strengthen the area around the knee. Over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs can give your child relief in the meantime.

Arthralgias

Arthralgias will cause your child to suffer from swelling and tenderness at the affected joint and the will likely be much more severe than a child suffering from restless legs

Treatment Options For Your Boy or Girl

There are no FDA approved medications for the treatment of children with restless legs. This is in part because there have been no randomized, placebo controlled tests administered to children who suffer from this disease to rule out negative side effects.

If your child is proven to be experiencing RLS, the most safe, and most effective restless legs syndrome treatment is to follow healthy lifestyle habits that thwart RLS attacks. Observe a consistent sleep schedule, keep away from refined sugars and caffeine in your child's diet, get your child lots of exercise and ensure your child gets a diet rich in iron and anti oxidants.


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Abraham Winters studies the the effect of restless leg syndrome on children. If interested, more his work can be found at children with restless leg syndrome

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