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Do you have restless legs syndrome?

Your busy lifestyle requires enough rest to keep up with all the to-dos. But when restless legs syndrome kicks in at night, getting enough sleep might seem impossible. Keep reading to explore common symptoms and get the right care for you.

What is restless legs syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a surprisingly common condition that irritates the legs. It gives you the urge to move your legs for relief. RLS happens most often in the evening when you are sitting or trying to sleep.

It can also happen when you aren’t active, like riding in a car or watching a movie. People with RLS often struggle to get a good night’s sleep because the constant urge to move their legs keeps them awake.

What causes restless legs syndrome? 

Restless legs syndrome can start at any age, even during childhood, but it’s more common as people get older. It’s more common in women than men. The exact cause of RLS is not clear. But there are several risk factors associated with the condition.

  • Heredity. RLS does seem to run in families, especially when the condition starts before age 40.
  • Pregnancy. Many women experience RLS during pregnancy when hormone levels are changing dramatically. For most women, the symptoms go away after their baby is born.
  • Iron deficiency. Iron deficiency is strongly associated with RLS and can cause it even when anemia isn’t present. Iron deficiency anemia can happen when there isn’t enough iron in your diet.
  • Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage). This type of nerve damage happens in the hands and feet and may contribute to RLS.
  • Kidney disease. When your kidneys aren’t functioning correctly, RLS is much more common. This can be due to various issues, including iron deficiency, iron metabolism or neuropathy. Neuropathy describes damaged or unhealthy nerves.

Symptoms of restless legs syndrome 

The most common symptom is an irresistible urge to move your legs. You may have RLS if you experience:

  • Irritation in the legs may feel like crawling, pulling, throbbing, itching or an electrical impulse.
  • Irritation happens when you’re at rest.
  • Moving your legs brings relief.
  • The condition usually worsens at night.

Talk to a sleep medicine specialist to get diagnosed with restless legs syndrome and explore the best treatment options for you.

Treatment of restless legs syndrome

While your schedule is also restless, you don’t need to take unpleasant RLS symptoms in stride. Get the right care and make time for lifestyle changes to ease your RLS symptoms. Home remedies for restless legs syndrome include:

  • Apply heating or cool pads. Heat and cold therapy can help improve blood circulation in your legs.
  • Maintain a balanced diet. Eat foods containing iron, vitamin D and potassium. Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol before bedtime. All three can interrupt your sleep and trigger restless legs syndrome symptoms.
  • Get regular exercise. Build physical activities, such as walking, biking, swimming or yoga, into your routine. Moderate exercise can lower your stress and promote better sleep. Know your body’s physical limitations to avoid injury and don’t forget to stretch.  
  • Practice self-care. Hot baths and massages. Leg massages and hot baths can help relax your muscles and decrease RLS flare-ups.

Medications

When lifestyle changes don’t improve your symptoms, your doctor might add medication to your restless legs syndrome treatment plan. Common medications for RLS include:

  • Alpha-2-delta ligands. These medications can help calm down nerves and improve RLS symptoms. They are less effective than dopamine boosters but tend to have fewer side effects.
  • Dopamine boosters. These medications can activate your dopamine receptors, which can improve your mood and help control muscle movement associated with restless legs syndrome.
  • Opioids. Your provider may prescribe low doses of opioid medication to treat RLS-related pain. Opioids can be addicting and are the last line of defense when other medications can’t tame RLS-related pain.

Ask your doctor if any of your current medications can trigger restless legs syndrome. Your doctor will talk with you about the different medications and each of its side effects.

Complications from restless legs syndrome

Restless legs syndrome does more than bring on sleep challenges and disrupt your schedule. Left untreated, it can impact your mental health, work performance and quality of life. RLS can trigger anxiety, depression and make it challenging to be the best version of yourself.

Getting diagnosed for restless legs syndrome

There isn’t a diagnostic test for restless legs syndrome. Your health care provider can confirm your RLS diagnosis by asking questions about your symptoms, sleep quality, lifestyle and overall health.

Talk to a sleep medicine specialist and get strategies to easily improve your symptoms.

Make better rest a dream come true

Talk with your health care provider about the right RLS treatment options for you—and take back your ability to recharge for those who count on you.

 

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