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What is Restless Leg Syndrome? (Causes and Symptoms)

By: SleepScore Labs  |  September 20th, 2018

One of the more curious sleep concerns that a fair number of sleepers deal with involves uncomfortable sensations in their legs, forcing them to move around to find relief.

It’s known as Restless Leg Syndrome, and it is one of the disorders associated with sleep-related movement.

What is Restless Leg Syndrome?

Restless leg syndrome is a medical condition where people experience uncomfortable feelings in their legs, like itchiness, pins and needles, or a “creepy crawly” sensation. This results in an uncontrollable urge to move their legs, and the feeling gets stronger when lying down or at rest. This is why it’s considered a sleep disorder.

The chronic issue can last for years or even a lifetime for many people.

Who has RLS?

Currently, about 5 to 10 percent of all adults have RLS. Similar to other sleep issues, doctors and general practitioners get minimal training and education around RLS. As a consequence, it goes often unrecognized, misdiagnosed, and/or poorly managed.

Restless Legs Syndrome symptoms

It’s no surprise that the symptoms of RLS are most prominent in the legs. There is a strong urge to move your legs due to itchy and burning sensations. Initial signs include a strange itching, tingling or crawling, with the sensation occurring in both arms or legs.

Another symptom includes the constant desire to move your hands, back, arms and legs. The unpleasant burning sensations lessen during movements ranging from pacing the floor, rubbing legs together, or simply walking. During the night, RLS makes you move during sleep, leading to sleep disturbances and excessive daytime sleepiness.

What causes RLS?

The exact causes of RLS are still relatively unknown. But, there are several triggers that may increase your chances of being affected by RLS.

  • Medications like antidepressants, beta blockers, and even some antihistamine can all trigger RLS.
  • Pregnancy, particularly in the last trimester, may lead to RLS symptoms.
  • Underlying diseases sometimes share symptoms of RLS.
  • A consistent lack of sleep can make RLS symptoms go from bad to worse.

How to cope with the symptoms

Doctors have long pointed to a number of factors for curing the issue. Some will encourage lifestyle changes while others will look into whether or not you have an iron deficiency. Anti-seizure drugs and dopaminergic agents are also offered out to those with RLS to help them cure their ailment. Better sleep to avoid stress may also help.

You can also try these lifestyle changes to help limit the negative effects associated with RLS.

  • Diet and sleep are closely linked, so avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, particularly in the hours before bedtime.
  • Review any regularly taken medications with your doctor to make sure they are not adding insult to injury.
  • Engage in regular exercise, stretches, or massages.
  • Try a long soak in the warm water.

These tips can help sufferers with mild to moderate RLS. If you have more severe symptoms, a consultation with your doctor may be the best next step. They can prescribe medication to address your specific needs.

What’s next for RLS research?

New research is being done all the time to figure out causes, mechanisms, and treatments for RLS. New treatments ranging from new drugs and brain stimulation to footwraps and leg warming continue to be explored every year.

Have more questions about RLS or another sleep disorder? Tweet us at @sleepscore!

WebMD. “Symptoms of Restless Lege Syndrom”.
National Sleep Foundation. “Restless Legs Syndrome”.
NINDS. “Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet”.

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