Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a common disease. RLS can prevent people from falling asleep or staying asleep. It can lead to daytime tiredness and mood problems. There are many treatments available for this disease. Treatment options include several types of medicines as well as non-medication options.
Restless Leg symptoms include: Feeling a strong urge to move your legs when you are resting or sitting still. You also may have a creepy-crawly, tugging, itchy or tingly sensation. Many people who have RLS also kick or jerk their legs while sleeping. Symptoms get better when you walk, stretch or kick. They may return once you stop moving. Symptoms are worse in the evening or nighttime hours. Symptoms are not caused by leg cramps, muscles aches or arthritis.
Am I At Risk?
Restless legs syndrome can occur at any age, but it is more common in older adults. RLS can be hereditary; about 50% of people with RLS have family members with the disease. People who are pregnant, have kidney disease, or other neurologic diseases may be at higher risk of having RLS. People with anemia or low iron levels may have more severe RLS symptoms. Some drugs used to treat depression, nausea and allergies can make RLS symptoms worse.
Restless legs syndrome affects about 7% of the population. About 3% of people experience moderate to severe symptoms. Symptoms of RLS can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. You may wake up and need to pace the floor to relieve symptoms. RLS may cause you to feel tired during the day. Some people with RLS also report worsening of anxiety or depression.
Researchers are trying to determine the exact cause of RLS. It may be caused by changes in certain brain chemicals, such as dopamine. RLS also may be genetic; it is more common among family members. RLS symptoms become more severe in people who have iron deficiency. There is no specific test to detect restless legs syndrome. Your doctor will review your symptoms and determine if you have the disease.
Sometimes a sleep study is needed to determine if another sleep disorder is disturbing your sleep, but a sleep study is not necessary for the diagnosis of RLS. Activities such as exercise, leg massages and warm baths can help reduce mild RLS symptoms. Prescription medications can be helpful if you have more severe symptoms. Your doctor will help you decide if a medication is the best option for you. Some medications need to be taken daily at the same time of day. Others need to be taken only when symptoms bother you. Your doctor may recommend iron supplements if your iron levels are low.
In addition to taking medications, many other strategies can help ease symptoms of restless legs syndrome;
- Eat a well-balanced diet including foods rich in iron.
- Get some exercise every day.
- Stretch or massage the legs when you notice RLS symptoms.
- Use heating pads on your legs when you are awake or take a warm bath to reduce symptoms.
- Reduce your level of stress.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol and do not smoke. All of these can worsen RLS.
- Talk with your doctor about your symptoms. It may help to write down your symptoms including the time of day when they occur.
- Discuss all of your medications and herbal supplements with your doctor. Some of these could cause RLS symptoms or make them worse.
- Your doctor may test your iron levels.
- Your doctor may schedule you for a sleep study if you have symptoms of another sleep disorder such as sleep apnea.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a common disease in which uncomfortable leg sensations can prevent people from falling asleep or staying asleep. It can lead to daytime tiredness and mood problems. There are many treatments available for this disease including medication and non-medication options.
- There are several prescription medications used in treating RLS. Your doctor can help you determine the most appropriate medication to use.
- Iron supplements can help relieve symptoms in people who are iron deficient.
- Non-medication options are also extremely important in managing symptoms.
Who Should Be Treated:
Some people do not require any medications for RLS. Many people find relief through regular exercise and using warm baths or massaging the legs when they feel symptoms. However, some people have very intense symptoms which can prevent sleep and lead to daytime tiredness. In these cases, medications may be considered.
People with anemia or low iron levels may have more severe RLS symptoms. Some drugs used to treat depression, nausea, and allergies can make RLS symptoms worse. Sometimes using iron supplements or changing medications can help with RLS symptoms.
Restless legs syndrome (also called Willis-Ekbom disease) affects about 7% of the population, with about 3% experiencing moderate to severe symptoms. Symptoms of RLS can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Often patients wake up and need to pace the floor to relieve symptoms. In the setting of poor sleep, people may feel tired during the day and some people with RLS report worsening of anxiety or depression.
If leg sensations are only mildly distressing or if they do not occur on a regular basis, activities such as exercise, leg massage, and warm baths may be all that is required. In people who have more significant or frequent symptoms, prescription medications can be used. Your healthcare provider can help you decide if medications are needed. Some medications need to be taken at the same time each day and some can be taken only when symptoms are bothersome. Your healthcare provider may recommend iron supplements if your iron levels
In addition to medications, many other strategies can help ease symptoms of restless legs syndrome.
- Eat a well-balanced diet including foods rich in iron
- Engage in moderate physical activity every day
- Try stretching or massaging the legs when you notice RLS symptoms
- Try distracting yourself by doing something interesting to help you focus less on the RLS symptoms
- Manage stress
- Limit caffeine and alcohol and do not smoke, as these can worsen RLS
- Talk with your primary healthcare provider about your symptoms. It may help to write down your symptoms including the time of day when they occur. See a sleep specialist if recommended.
- Go over all of your medications and herbal aids with your healthcare providers to determine if any of these could cause/worsen your RLS symptoms.
- Iron testing may be recommended by your provider. A sleep study may be recommended to make sure there are no other problems which could disturb your sleep (like sleep apnea).
Since 1977, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) Standards for Accreditation have been the gold standard by which the medical community and the public evaluate sleep medicine facilities. Achieving AASM accreditation demonstrates a sleep medicine provider’s commitment to high quality, patient-centered care through adherence to these standards.