9 Things People with Restless Legs Syndrome Should Know

  • feet-hanging-off-of-bed
    Restless legs syndrome is a real medical condition.
    That crawling, itching, pulling feeling deep within your legs at night is not a bad dream. It’s an actual condition that affects approximately 10% of adults in the United States. It’s called restless legs syndrome (RLS), and it’s a neurological disorder that causes an irresistible urge to move your legs. If RLS is pulling at you, here’s what you need to know.

  • woman-uncomfortable-in-bed-with-arm-on-head
    1. There are two types of RLS: primary and secondary.
    Early-onset RLS, also known as primary RLS, begins before age 45 and sometimes as early as childhood. While the cause is unknown, researchers do know that it runs in families, and the signs and symptoms usually worsen slowly with time. Late-onset RLS, also referred to as secondary RLS, begins after age 45, and may be caused by a separate medical condition. Its signs and symptoms tend to worsen more quickly.

  • tired-woman-in-bed-looking-at-clock
    2. RLS could be confused with insomnia.
    While you may get some temporary relief from stretching, massaging, kicking or pacing, you may still find it difficult to fall or stay asleep. It’s not uncommon that RLS goes unrecognized or is misdiagnosed as insomnia or other neurological, muscular or orthopedic conditions.

  • woman-having-blood-pressure-checked-by-nurse
    3. People with diabetes are more likely to have RLS.
    Several other disorders increase the risk of developing RLS. These include end-stage renal disease (a life-threatening failure of kidney function), diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson’s disease.

  • Varicose Veins
    4. RLS can be caused by varicose veins.
    Secondary RLS is thought to be caused by a separate underlying medical condition, including varicose veins, pregnancy and low levels of iron or anemia. The good news, in these cases, is that RLS symptoms usually improve or go away with treatment, like when iron levels increase or after giving birth.

  • unhappy couple in bed
    5. RLS may lead to depression.
    The strange, sometimes uncomfortable feelings in your legs are usually worse at night, but you may also notice them when sitting or lying down during the day. As a result, you may have trouble concentrating, or you may experience mood swings, depression or other health problems. Certain types of antidepressant medication can actually worsen RLS symptoms – a good reason to keep your doctor informed about all of your health concerns. Getting treatment for RLS often helps control these conditions.

  • hand-on-bed
    6. People with RLS are likely to also have periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD).
    More than 80% of people with RLS also suffer from PLMD, a condition involving uncontrollable, repetitive leg movements while you’re sleeping, relaxed or drowsy. Researchers don’t know if PLMD is a feature of restless legs syndrome itself or a separate condition, but both can affect the quality and amount of sleep you get.

  • cup-of-coffee
    7. Caffeine can trigger RLS symptoms.
    Consuming caffeine, nicotine and alcohol can sometimes make RLS symptoms worse. Symptoms can also be caused by medications, including certain drugs used to treat nausea, colds and allergies, heart problems, high blood pressure, and depression and other mental health disorders. Once you stop using these medications, your symptoms usually improve or go away. If you need to continue certain drugs, your doctor may be able to prescribe other treatments to help with your RLS symptoms.

  • Doctor Writing Medical Prescription
    Your RLS treatment can stop working over time.
    Drugs used to treat RLS can be quite effective, but some that may have worked well for you at the beginning of treatment can become less effective after a while. You may also notice symptoms returning earlier in the day (known as rebound). If this happens to you, talk to your doctor about switching to a new medication or increasing your dosage.

  • man-drinking-water-on-stationary-bike
    Exercise (but not too much!) can help.
    While regular exercise may relieve RLS symptoms, overdoing it, or working out too late in the day, can make them more intense. Other lifestyle changes can also offer relief, like trying relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga, and prioritizing good sleep hygiene to avoid fatigue (which can worsen symptoms). You can also soothe your limbs by soaking in a warm bath while massaging your legs, or using warm or cool packs (or alternating use of both).

9 Things People with Restless Legs Syndrome Should Know

About The Author

Susan Fishman is a veteran freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience in consumer and patient education. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post and The Huffington Post, and on numerous other national health, wellness and parenting sites. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in clinical rehabilitation counseling at Georgia State University.
  1. Restless Legs Syndrome. Genetics Home Reference. National Institutes of Health. http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/restless-legs-syndrome
  2. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) and Sleep. National Sleep Foundation. http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems/restless-legs-syndrome
  3. Restless Legs Syndrome. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/restless-legs-syndrome/basics/treatment/con-20031101
  4. Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/restless_legs/detail_restless_legs.htm
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Last Review Date: 2019 Oct 4
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