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Restless Leg Syndrome and Diabetes

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Diabetes is one of the main causes of what is known as "Secondary Restless Leg Syndrome" - RLS that occurs as a symptom of another disease.

Generally, most cases of restless leg syndrome occur independently of any underlying health disorder.

RLS itself is considered non-life-threatening, and it’s not considered to be a sign of any other health problem. Most RLS occurs on its own without any other triggers and is rarely considered a sign that something else may need to be treated.

However, in some cases, some health conditions can cause RLS. This is known as "Secondary Restless Leg Syndrome," because RLS is not a cause but a symptom, and one example of this type of condition is diabetes.

RLS and Diabetes – Exploring the Causes

In 2008, a study was posted in the Diabetes Educator about restless leg syndrome in those with type 2 diabetes. The study took place at the University of Pennsylvania and polled 121 patients with type 2 diabetes.

They found that an incredible 54 individuals (45%) of those with diabetes fit the diagnostic criteria for restless legs.

Another study in Brazil in 2005 also measured the number of men and women suffering from RLS and type 2 diabetes. They found that 27% of diabetic patients fit the diagnostic criteria for RLS. An additional 18% also experienced other sleep problems that may or may not have been related.

It's unclear whether type 1 diabetes is linked to RLS. There may be a link, but as of now, it looks as though those with type 1 and RLS are suffering from two separate conditions.

RLS doesn't have any known cause, so the exact mechanism that leads to RLS in diabetics isn't entirely clear either. However, some believe the causes may include:

Possible Diabetes Connections

Glucose and Vaso Nervorum – Glucose is believed to affect the vaso nervorum nerves. Excess glucose appears to damage the blood vessels that send nourishment to those nervous, and the vaso nervorum may also be linked to RLS.

Chronic Kidney Disease – Diabetes may also damage the kidneys. Scientists have linked severe kidney damage to restless leg syndrome. Many doctors have found that kidney replacements offer those with kidney damage relief from RLS, thereby acknowledging a link may exist. 

Diabetes is also a complicated disorder and one that can affect the brain and the muscles. Other damage may also contribute to restless leg syndrome and diabetes.

RLS and its Effects on Diabetes

One of the issues for those dealing with diabetes is that restless leg syndrome could put individuals at risk for more damage to the body.

Diabetes management requires consistent lifestyle changes that ultimately improve the balance of glucose and other nutrients in your body. RLS, however, disrupts that management, because it can lead to a lack of sleep that can put additional stress on your body, harming your organs and making it more difficult to manage your diabetes.

Some people are concerned that those with diabetes and restless legs may be at greater risk for heart disease and other health issues as a result of this cycle.

Managing RLS in Diabetes Patients

Because RLS is a secondary effect of diabetes, reducing RLS can often be improved by managing your diabetes. Generally, doctors will promote diabetes treatments as a way to reduce RLS symptoms, because the more your diabetes is under control, the fewer instances of RLS you will experience.

However, because of the increased risk of health issues as a result of RLS disrupting sleep quality, it may be a good idea to also initiate RLS management techniques, especially those that can be integrated easily into your lifestyle. Taking warm baths before sleep, walking more – these are all safe methods of relieving RLS symptoms and should help you improve your sleep so that your diabetes can be more easily managed.





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