We all feel occasional leg aches and pains from intense exercise or a long day on our feet. But what if you have leg discomfort that doesn’t improve when you rest?
Restless legs syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes a person’s legs to feel uncomfortable when sitting or lying down, along with an intense urge to get up and move around to relieve the discomfort. So how do you know if your discomfort is restless legs syndrome?
What Are the Symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome?
Common symptoms are a tingling, burning, itching, pulling, throbbing, or “creepy- crawly” feeling in the legs. Symptoms come on after a person has been resting for a while, improve with activity, and then come back with resting. Some people notice that symptoms are worse at night and can interfere with sleep, causing severe sleep deprivation. Other people with the condition also experience leg twitching or jerking movements during sleep, called periodic limb movements of sleep.
Why Do Some People Get Restless Legs Syndrome?
Doctors don’t know what causes this condition. Some research suggests that restless legs syndrome may be triggered by an imbalance of a brain chemical called dopamine, which affects muscle movement. And while restless legs syndrome is not known to be caused by any other condition, it often is associated with pregnancy. Some people who have the condition also have peripheral neuropathy, iron-deficiency anemia, Parkinson’s disease, or kidney failure. There is some evidence that the condition may be hereditary. In over half of cases, people have a family history of restless legs syndrome.
How Is Restless Legs Syndrome Treated?
There is no cure for restless leg syndrome, but it is almost always manageable with medication and lifestyle changes.
Medicines used to help manage symptoms include:
- Medicines to treat Parkinson’s disease, nerve pain, or seizures
- Prescription medicines for sleep
- Muscle relaxants
- Iron supplements (if iron levels are low)
- Pain medicines
Lifestyle changes that might help with managing symptoms include:
- Reducing alcohol and caffeine consumption
- Quitting smoking or cutting back on tobacco products
- Taking hot baths before bed
- Try using relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga
- Applying heating pads or ice packs on legs
- Massaging the legs
- Staying active without overdoing it – moderate-intensity exercise is recommended over vigorous activity
- Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day to improve your sleep
- Avoiding medications that may aggravate symptoms, such as antinausea medicines, antipsychotics, antidepressants, and certain cold and allergy medicines (talk to your healthcare provider or Rite Aid Pharmacist if you have questions about whether your medications could be affecting symptoms)
What Can You Do If You Think You Have Restless Legs Syndrome?
Tell your doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor will ask you questions about your medical history, family history, and habits to determine if restless legs syndrome is the cause of your symptoms. Your doctor can also recommend treatments that are best for you.
In some cases, doctors refer patients to a sleep specialist to further check symptoms. The sleep specialist might ask you to keep a sleep diary for two weeks to track when you sleep and for how long. You may also be asked to rate how your sleep is affecting your daily life. Sometimes a sleep study is recommended to check for obstructive sleep apnea or other sleep disorders that may be causing sleep disruption. Make sure to tell the sleep specialist if you or a relative have ever had a sleep disorder.
You may find it helpful to join a support group with other people who have restless legs syndrome or talk to friends or family members who have the condition.
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Restless Legs Syndrome, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: