Do you regularly feel the impulse to move your legs constantly when you’re in bed? If so, you could have restless leg syndrome. However, multiple treatment options for this common neurological disorder are available today. Here’s a closer look at restless leg syndrome, its causes, symptoms, treatments, and more.
What is Restless Leg Syndrome?
Restless leg syndrome often interferes with a person’s ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. This syndrome involves discomfort in the legs, which results in the impulse to move the legs. In most cases, the impulse to move the legs is uncontrollable, and this generally occurs at night or in the evening when you’re lying or sitting down. In some cases, the impulse to move your legs may be accompanied by various unpleasant sensations. Also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, restless legs syndrome may start any time, but it usually grows worse with age. In some cases, restless leg symptoms may also be present in the arms, torso, face, and other parts of your body. While this syndrome more commonly affects adults, studies conducted in the UK and the US have found that restless legs syndrome affects 2% of children too.
Restless Leg Syndrome Causes
What causes restless leg syndrome? In cases when the cause is unknown, this could refer to idiopathic or primary restless leg syndrome. Idiopathic restless leg genetic factor could contribute to the development of this problem in patients.
In other cases, restless leg syndrome develops as a complication of another medical problem. Some secondary causes of this condition include:
- Iron Deficiency – In many cases, restless leg syndrome may occur as a complication of iron deficiency. Lack of iron leads to anemia, and individuals suffering from anemia often experience some of the symptoms of RLS. Treating iron deficiency with iron supplements may eliminate the symptoms of RLS.
- Pregnancy – According to RLS-UK.org, about 20% of pregnant women experience restless legs. This problem is more likely to occur during the third trimester. Some women continue to experience the symptoms after giving birth, while other women never deal with symptoms again after they give birth.
- Medication Side Effects – In some cases, restless leg syndrome may be a side effect of certain types of medications. Some medications that may cause the symptoms of RLS include:
- Calcium channel blockers.
- Dopamine antagonists.
- Serious Medical Conditions – It is possible for Willis-Ekbom disease to be a symptom of other serious medical conditions, such as:
- Parkinson’s disease.
- Underactive thyroid.
- Kidney failure.
Common Restless Leg Syndrome Symptoms
Restless leg syndrome gets its name from the overwhelming desire to move the legs, but it includes other symptoms as well. Some of the common symptoms patients experience include:
- Sensations usually begin when the body is at rest, such as when an individual is sitting or lying down for an extended period.
- Movement usually relieves some of the sensations that come with restless legs. Walking, pacing, jiggling the legs, or stretching may help.
- Symptoms grow worse in the evening and at night.
- Leg twitching often occurs at night. Restless leg syndrome is believed to be associated with periodic limb movement, a condition that causes the legs to kick and twitch while sleeping.
- Unpleasant, frustrating sensations that occur in the legs (and sometimes in the arms), such as:
- Difficulty falling asleep at night or problems staying asleep may accompany the other symptoms.
- Fatigue or sleepiness often affects individuals with restless leg syndrome during the day.
- Both legs are usually affected.
According to MayoClinic.org, symptoms often fluctuate in severity. It’s not uncommon for the symptoms to completely disappear, only to recur again in the future. The symptoms of restless leg syndrome may also vary from person to person, and some individuals may find it difficult to describe the sensations they feel in their legs, although nearly all patients note that they have a desire to move the legs.
Restless Leg Syndrome Treatment Options
If restless legs syndrome is caused by an underlying condition, that condition must be treated to relive the symptoms. Individuals who have idiopathic RLS may find relief from lifestyle changes. However, in more severe cases, medications may be used to treat the condition. If your doctor chooses to use medication to treat your condition, he might prescribe one of these:
- Medications That Affect Calcium Channels – These medications may prove effective for some. They include Lyrica and Neurontin.
- Dopamine-Increasing Medications – These medications increase dopamine within the brain, helping to reduce motion in the legs. Commonly prescribed options include pramipexole, ropinirole, and rotigotine. Side effects may include fatigue, nausea, and lightheadedness.
- Benzodiazepines – Benzodiazepines, such as clonazepam, zaleplon, zolpidem, and temazepam, may relax the muscles and help patients sleep better at night. However, they do not eliminate the symptoms and some patients may experience daytime drowsiness when taking these medications.
- Opioids – addictive.
Restless Leg Syndrome Home Remedies
In many cases, lifestyle changes can help reduce the symptoms of restless leg syndrome. If you want to avoid taking medication, considering trying some of the following home remedies:
- Regular Exercise – Regular exercise may reduce the symptoms of RLS. Walking, swimming, and strength training are all great exercise options. However, according to HelpGuide.org, it’s important to avoid excessive exercise, which could make your symptoms even worse.
- Cut Back on Caffeine – Some individuals notice that caffeine makes their symptoms worse, so it may be helpful to cut back on or eliminate caffeine. Caffeinated foods and drinks to avoid include chocolate, soft drinks, tea, and coffee.
- Relaxation Techniques – Stress may make the symptoms of restless legs syndrome worse, but relaxation techniques can help relieve stress and promote relaxation. Relaxation techniques, including meditation and yoga, may help relieve your symptoms.
- Follow a Regular Sleep Schedule – It’s important to follow a regular sleep schedule when dealing with this disease. Fatigue may make your symptoms worse, so work to get enough sleep each night. Try to keep your schedule regular, and keep your sleep area comfortable by ensuring it is cool, dark, and quiet.
- Warm Baths – When the symptoms of restless leg syndrome occur, consider taking a warm bath. The warm water may relax muscles, making it easier for you to get back to sleep.
- Compression Socks – You may want to try wearing compression socks or stockings when you go to bed. The pressure may help relieve some of the discomfort you feel in your legs. However, it’s essential to make sure that the socks do not cut off circulation to your legs.
Since restless leg syndrome usually lasts for life, it’s important to have the support of those around you. It’s also important to use coping strategies, which may include keeping a sleep diary or joining a support group.