Restlessness and a compulsive need to shake legs while sitting or lying down is a treatable health problem, but the Indian medical fraternity is not aware of it.
The condition, called Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), makes it difficult for patients to sit down comfortably during air travel, long drives or even while watching a movie, say experts.
AdvertisementNot many people in India are aware about RLS, which is accompanied in many cases by a tingling and painful sensation in the limb.
"In India there is hardly any awareness about the syndrome among physicians, let alone the common people," said J.C. Suri, senior chest physician and head of the sleep disorder department at the Safdarjung Hospital here.
"People may not be aware that the problem can be treated after proper evaluation and diagnosis," Suri told IANS.
Most cases diagnosed by Suri were on the basis of symptoms with not even the patients or their earlier physicians recognising the problem.
"Many of the people had come to us after consultations with neurologists and other specialists. RLS is generally secondary to other problems. It is not very common as an isolated problem," said Suri.
A common indication of the problem is periodic leg movement and restlessness even during sleep. In around 70 percent of the patients, there could be muscle twitching too.
Considered to be a form of sleep disorder, RLS can have significant physical and emotional effect on sufferers, many of whom tend to get more restless towards the evening and are unable to sleep properly.
"RLS is a real medical condition like diabetes, depression or high blood pressure," said Sunil Sharma, Indian-origin director, Sleep Medicine Research, University of South Carolina.
"The symptoms may interfere with their sleep and as a result they may feel sleepy during the day, too tired to participate in their daily activities."
Results of a multi-centric trial in Europe and the US, published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine 2004, found 23,000 people suffering from RLS, indicating the large number of people who go undiagnosed for their problem.
In the US and Europe, studies have indicated that almost 10 percent of the population suffer from this problem. But in India no proper estimates have been made.
A study by the US-based NATIONAL CENTER ON SLEEP DISORDERS RESEARCH (NCSDR) however states: "A lower prevalence of the condition has been found in India, Japan and Singapore, indicating that racial or ethnic factors are associated with RLS.
"Iron deficiency and folic acid deficiency, both of which are highly prevalent in India, can lead to this problem," said Sharma, who is researching on the link between RLS and sleep apnea (severe snoring problem).
The problem could be genetic for patients aged below 40 years.
"But for those over 40 years of age with no genetic link, it could be due to underlying causes like iron and folic acid deficiency, particularly during pregnancy, diabetes or due to medications," said Sharma.
"Non-ergotamine dopamine agonist has been found very effective in 80 percent of RLS cases. Benzodiazines and other options are also available."
Sharma's advice for relief is to improve sleep schedule and reduce the intake of alcohol and tobacco, besides medication. A cold compress and massage of the affected parts can also help ease the painful sensation.
For those seeking help, the US-based Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation offers online advice.