The Link between Diabetes and Restless Leg Syndrome
by Allison Karp, Education Coordinator
With ongoing advances in medical care, increased treatment options, and improved education relating to health and wellness, the adult population throughout the world is considered to be healthier than it was a century ago. However, diabetes, a long-term health condition that inhibits the body’s ability to produce or respond to insulin, is a growing concern. In the UK alone, more than 3.5 million adults have diabetes, and it is estimated that the total number will increase to 5 million over the next decade. Throughout the developed world, nearly one in every 11 adults has been diagnosed with diabetes, while 46% of adults with diabetes are unaware they have the condition.
What Causes Diabetes
Two types of diabetes are prevalent in today’s society: Type 1 and Type 2. For most individuals, Type 1 diabetes takes hold of the body when insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are damaged, either due to an abnormal reaction within the body or an infection. Most individuals who are living with Type 1 diabetes have had the condition and suffered from ongoing symptoms since childhood. Type 2 diabetes is a more pressing issue as it affects a large portion of the population, and it is typically found in older adults. When a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes is given, the body is not producing enough insulin or the insulin it is producing is not being used in the right way.
Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can be linked to the genetic history of the patient’s family; however, Type 2 diabetes is more closely attributed to environmental and lifestyle factors. The population with the greatest risk of being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes are children or adults who have an increased waist size, or those who are overweight or obese. While the risk of having Type 1 diabetes cannot be reduced from a family history standpoint, lowering the chance of getting Type 2 diabetes later in life can be done by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, and exercising on a regular basis.
An Uncomfortable Complication of Diabetes
For individuals who have diabetes, a range of complications can impede on everyday life. In addition to monitoring blood sugar levels at least once per day, individuals diagnosed with diabetes must take care to control their condition by following a well thought out diet and being physically active as much as the condition permits. Additionally, adults with diabetes run the risk of experiencing cardiovascular disease, blindness, stroke, and kidney disease if the condition is not managed over time. One of the lesser known medical issues plaguing individuals with diabetes is an uncomfortable condition known as restless leg syndrome.
As a frequently misdiagnosed condition, restless leg syndrome, or RLS, is defined as a neurological disorder that creates bodily discomfort constantly. Individuals suffering from restless leg syndrome may feel the need to move all the time – a frustrating condition that disrupts relaxation and sleep. Attempting to lie down or refrain from moving triggers the need to move which can cause a painful pulling or throbbing in the limbs, most commonly affecting the legs. Members of the medical community have a difficult time coming to a consensus about what causes restless leg syndrome, but family history, pregnancy, aging, venous insufficiency and health conditions, like diabetes, are all known culprits.
The link between restless leg syndrome and diabetes is being discussed more frequently among doctors who treat patients suffering from both conditions. When high blood sugar is an ongoing issue, individuals may end up with nerve damage that can lead to diabetic peripheral neuropathy. This common issue among people with diabetes results in damage to the nerves of the feet and lower legs, causing restless leg syndrome. In some cases, symptoms of restless leg syndrome are due to a far simpler problem. Eddie Chaloner of Radiance Vein Clinic explains, “When symptoms like nerve damage cannot be easily explained, varicose veins or venous reflux, whether the valves in the veins don’t work and blood flows the wrong way down a vein, could be the culprit of restless leg syndrome.” He continues that there is no definitive blood test or scan to diagnose restless leg syndrome, but it is made based on an assessment of the symptoms and exclusion of underlying conditions.
Regardless of the medical reason causes achiness and impulse movement in the legs or limbs, restless leg syndrome has no direct cure. Fortunately, individuals who have diabetes can take steps to control the discomfort and make life a bit easier. Having consistent sleep patterns each day is crucial to reducing the symptoms of RLS, as is implementing lifestyle changes like abstaining from caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine intake. Similarly, maintaining a routine of physical activity is beneficial to individuals who have restless leg syndrome. Leg massages and warm soaking baths can also reduce discomfort. It is important that individuals who show signs of restless leg syndrome make plans to visit a medical professional to help determine the best course of action to improve quality of life.