Sat, Jul 20, 2013 - Page 3 News List

Unusual syndrome keeps elderly man from sleeping

By Hua Meng-ching and Jason Pan  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

An elderly man in Hualien County was being kept awake at night by unusual burning and itching sensations in his legs, a condition that was later diagnosed by doctors as restless legs syndrome (RLS).

“It was difficult to sleep at night, because it felt like worms were crawling all over my legs. Every time it happened, I had to shake my legs a few times to alleviate the sensation,” the 80-year-old Hualien resident, surnamed Chen (陳), said earlier this week.

Chen went to the Mennonite Christian Hospital in the city to seek help, where doctors in the neurology department diagnosed him with the unusual syndrome, which is also known as Willis-Ekbom disease.

The condition is a neurological disorder characterized by an irresistible urge to move the legs to stop uncomfortable or odd sensations, but can also affect other body parts, such as the arms, torso or head.

Wang Chi-hung (王志弘), the hospital’s neurologist, said Chen suffered chronic pain and a burning feeling in the legs, with the conditions quite acute at night, but not very noticeable in the daytime.

“In simple terms, RLS is like when a person’s brain is ready to go to sleep, but the body’s nervous system is not set for sleep yet,” Wang said.

According to Chen, whenever he lay down to sleep, his legs began to feel hot, accompanied by a sensation of “worms crawling on the legs.” Sometimes it was painful or his legs started to feel numb, so he would get up to have a look and then shake his legs to make the sensation go away. This procedure only gave him temporary relief, but the cycle would repeat numerous times throughout the night, he said.

“It was always bothering me and I had not had a good night’s sleep for a long time. It also affected my wife’s sleep because we share a bedroom,” he added.

Doctors said RLS is caused by a disruption of the nervous system due to long-term kidney dialysis, kidney dysfunction, or anemia caused by an iron deficiency or certain medications.

Wang said that after he cross-checked with other specialists at the hospital, it was verified that Chen suffered from anemia due to an iron deficiency.

Chen was prescribed oral iron supplements and his condition is improving, he added.

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