There are some sleep issues that we are all familiar with, such as narcolepsy, restless leg syndrome, and insomnia. But, one disorder in particular that has been getting a lot of attention lately is periodic limb movement disorder.
This is a somewhat rare sleep disorder that only occurs in a small segment of the population. However, it has potentially dangerous repercussions and is often a precursor to other health issues.
People with periodic limb movement disorder often are not aware that they have this problem until someone else tells them about it. It may be that their spouse or sleeping partner notices these movements during their sleep, and then it is usually brought up to a doctor.
What Is Periodic Limb Movement Disorder?
Periodic limb movement disorder is somewhat similar to restless leg syndrome in that the lower extremities are most often involved. However, there are some people who will experience emotions with your upper extremity as well. These movements usually occur periodically throughout the night and they can range from severe to very mild for any number of different reasons.
There are no known causes for this disorder, though it is known to be highly associated with Parkinson’s disease and narcolepsy. But, just because you have periodic limb movement disorder does not mean that you have any other kind of underlying health problem.
What Are The Symptoms Of This Disorder?
The symptoms of this disorder are very unique and easily identifiable. They usually involve some type of leg movement with a flexing or extension of the toes or ankles. The movements will be very unique and will look uncomfortable to the person who is watching them take place. It is not unusual for people to wake up after experiencing this type of sleep and find that their muscles are strained or cramped.
Periodic limb movement disorder can manifest itself in the toes and ankles, knees or the hips. In some rare instances, it can also take place in the fingers, wrists, and shoulders, but generally the most obvious signs of this disorder are in the lower limbs.
Is There A Treatment That Works?
Generally speaking, there is no scientifically proven cure for periodic limb movement disorder, though there are various treatments that can help to reduce some of the symptoms. Most of these treatments tend to be prescription based products that are usually prescribed for other problems. For instance, many drugs that are usually used for Parkinson’s disease will also be used for periodic limb movement disorder.
Anticonvulsant medications, narcotics, and benzodiazepines have also been prescribed for this disorder. However, you should keep in mind that sometimes the side effects that go along with these medications are worse than the disorder in the first place. Therefore, the patient often needs to decide if this is actually worth trying or not.
For the most part, if this disorder is not causing any problem for the patient, then it is usually something that is left untreated. In many cases, it is simply the partner of the patient who has the biggest problem. In such cases, they are usually asked to sleep in a different room to avoid the night-time disruption.
Can You Avoid Getting This Disorder?
There are actually several precautionary measures that you can take in order to avoid the symptoms of periodic limb movement disorder. However, once you have been diagnosed, it is highly unlikely that this is something that will go away easily.
One substance that seems to make things much worse for patients to have this disorder is caffeine. Ideally, you should avoid any caffeine-based product after midday. If you can remove these products from your diet entirely, you will have positive results. Caffeine-based products include sodas, soft drinks, coffee, tea, and chocolate.
Another thing to keep in mind is that many antidepressants can exacerbate episodes of periodic limb movement disorder. Therefore, it is a good idea to monitor your symptoms along with any changes in medications that you may experience. This will be able to give you a better idea as to what helps to improve your symptoms and what makes them worse.
Is There Anything Else You Should Know?
As far as sleep disorders go, this is actually one of the less disruptive ones. Unless you are experiencing a lack of sleep because of periodic limb movement disorder, this may be something that you cannot tolerate without treatment for the rest of your life. However, if this tends to keep you or your partner up at night, then you may want to seek treatment.
Last Updated 12 Aug 2013
1. WebMD (Accessed 12 Aug 2013)
2. National Center On Sleep Disorders Research (Accessed 12 Aug 2013)
3. E Medicine Health (Accessed 12 Aug 2013)
4. Sleep Foundation (Accessed 12 Aug 2013)