What is restless leg syndrome?
Restless legs syndrome, also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a common condition of the nervous system that causes an overwhelming, irresistible urge to move the legs.
It can also cause an unpleasant crawling or creeping sensation in the feet, calves and thighs. The sensation is often worse in the evening or at night. Occasionally, the arms are affected too.
Restless legs syndrome is also associated with involuntary jerking of the legs and arms, known as periodic limb movements in sleep (PLMS). Some people have the symptoms of restless legs syndrome occasionally, while others have them every day. The symptoms can vary from mild to severe. In severe cases, restless legs syndrome can be very distressing and disrupt a person’s daily activities.
How common is restless leg syndrome?
Restless leg syndrome affects both sexes, but is more common in women and may begin at any age, even in young children. Most people who are affected severely are middle-aged or older.
What are the symptoms of restless leg syndrome?
The common symptoms of restless leg syndrome are:
- Tingling, burning, itching or throbbing
- A”creepy-crawly” feeling
- Feeling like fizzy water is inside the blood vessels in the legs
- Apainful, cramping sensation in the legs, particularly in the calves
The sensation may also affect your arms, chest and face. These unpleasant sensations can range from mild to unbearable, and are usually worse in the evening and during the night. They can often be relieved by moving or rubbing your legs.
Some people experience symptoms occasionally, while others have them every day.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes restless leg syndrome?
In most cases, doctors do not know the cause of restless legs syndrome; however, they suspect that genes play a role. Nearly half of people with RLS also have a family member with the condition.
Other factors associated with the development or worsening of restless legs syndrome include:
- Chronic diseases. Certain chronic diseases and medical conditions, including iron deficiency, Parkinson’s disease, kidney failure, diabetes, and peripheral neuropathy often include symptoms of RLS. Treating these conditions often gives some relief from RLS symptoms.
- Some types of medications, including antinausea drugs, antipsychotic drugs, some antidepressants, and cold and allergy medications containing sedating antihistamines, may worsen symptoms.
- Some women experience RLS during pregnancy, especially in the last trimester. Symptoms usually go away within a month after delivery.
- Other factors, including alcohol use and sleep deprivation, may trigger symptoms or make them worse. Improving sleep or eliminating alcohol use in these cases may relieve symptoms.
What increases my risk for restless leg syndrome?
There are many risk factors for this condition, such as:
- Age: The disorder is more common with increasing age
- Sex: The disorder is more commonin women than in men.
Restless legs syndrome usually isn’t related to a serious underlying medical problem. However, it sometimes accompanies other conditions, such as:
- Peripheral neuropathy. This damage to the nerves in your hands and feet is sometimes due to chronic diseases such as diabetes and alcoholism.
- Iron deficiency. Even without anemia, iron deficiency can cause or worsen Restless Leg Syndrome. If you have a history of bleeding from your stomach or bowels, experience heavy menstrual periods or repeatedly donate blood, you may have iron deficiency.
- Kidney failure. If you have kidney failure, you may also have iron deficiency, often with anemia. When kidneys don’t function properly, iron stores in your blood can decrease. This, with other changes in body chemistry, may cause or worsen restless leg s
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is restless leg syndrome diagnosed?
There is no medical test to diagnose RLS; however, doctors may use blood tests and other exams to rule out other conditions. The diagnosis of RLS is based on a patient’s symptoms and answers to questions concerning family history of similar symptoms, medication use, the presence of other symptoms or medical conditions, or problems with daytime sleepiness.
How is restless leg syndrome treated?
Treatment for RLS is targeted at easing symptoms. In people with mild to moderate restless legs syndrome, lifestyle changes, such as beginning a regular exercise program, establishing regular sleep patterns, and eliminating or decreasing the use of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco, may be helpful. Treatment of an RLS-associated condition also may provide relief of symptoms.
Other non-drug RLS treatments may include:
- Leg massages
- Hot baths or heating pads or ice packs applied to the legs
- Good sleep habits
- A vibrating pad called Relaxis
Medications may be helpful as RLS treatments, but the same drugs are not helpful for everyone. In fact, a drug that relieves symptoms in one person may worsen them in another. In other cases, a drug that works for a while may lose its effectiveness over time. Drugs used to treat RLS include:
- Dopaminergic drugs, which act on the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. Mirapex, Neupro, and Requip are FDA-approved for treatment of moderate to severe RLS. Others, such as levodopa, may also be prescribed.
- Benzodiazepines, a class of sedative medications, may be used to help with sleep, but they can cause daytime drowsiness.
- Narcotic pain relievers may be used for severe pain.
- Anticonvulsants, or antiseizure drugs, such as Tegretol, Lyrica, Neurontin, and Horizant.
Although there is no cure for restless legs syndrome, current treatments can help control the condition, decrease symptoms, and improve sleep.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage restless leg syndrome?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with restless leg syndrome:
- Avoiding stimulants in the evening – such as caffeine, tobacco and alcohol
- Not smoking – read more about quitting smoking
- Taking regular daily exercise – but avoid exercising near bedtime
- Practising good sleep habits – for example, going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, not napping during the day, taking time to relax before going to bed, and avoiding caffeine close to bedtime
- Avoiding medicines that trigger the symptoms or make them worse – if you think medication is causing your symptoms, continue to take it and make an appointment to see your GP
During an episode of restless legs syndrome, the following measures may help relieve your symptoms:
- Massaging your legs
- Taking a hot bath in the evening
- Applying a hot or cold compress to your leg muscles
- Doing activities that distract your mind, such as reading or watching television
- Relaxation exercises, such as yoga or tai chi
- Walking and stretching
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
- Restless legs syndrome. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/restless-legs-syndrome/basics/definition/con-20031101. Accessed 6 Feb 2017
- Restless legs syndrome. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Restless-leg-syndrome/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Accessed 6 Feb 2017
- Restless Legs Syndrome. http://www.webmd.com/brain/restless-legs-syndrome/restless-legs-syndrome-rls#1. Accessed 6 Feb 2017
Review Date: August 29, 2017 | Last Modified: September 5, 2017