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?
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.
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.
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:
Lifestyle changes that might help with managing symptoms include:
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.
Can’t Curb the Urge to Move?, NIH News in Health:
Restless Legs, Medline Plus:
Restless Legs Syndrome, American Academy of Family Physicians:
Restless Legs Syndrome, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research:
Restless Legs Syndrome, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke:
These articles are not a substitute for medical advice, and are not intended to treat or cure any disease. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid, or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of scientific literature may vary. Consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, exercise, or medication regime.