Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome is a movement disorder. It may also be called a sensori-motor disorder.

CAUSES

No one knows what specifically causes restless legs syndrome, but it tends to run in families. It is also more common in people with low iron, in pregnancy, in people who need dialysis, and those with nerve damage (neuropathy). Some medications may make restless legs syndrome worse. Those medications include drugs to treat high blood pressure, some heart conditions, nausea, colds, allergies, and depression.

SYMPTOMS

Symptoms include uncomfortable sensations in the legs. These leg sensations are worse during periods of inactivity or rest. They are also worse while sitting or lying down. Individuals that have the disorder describe sensations in the legs that feel like:

  • Pulling.

  • Drawing.

  • Crawling.

  • Worming.

  • Boring.

  • Tingling.

  • Pins and needles.

  • Prickling.

  • Pain.

The sensations are usually accompanied by an overwhelming urge to move the legs. Sudden muscle jerks may also occur. Movement provides temporary relief from the discomfort. In rare cases, the arms may also be affected. Symptoms may interfere with going to sleep (sleep onset insomnia). Restless legs syndrome may also be related to periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD). PLMD is another more common motor disorder. It also causes interrupted sleep. The symptoms from PLMD usually occur most often when you are awake.

TREATMENT

Treatment for restless legs syndrome is symptomatic. This means that the symptoms are treated.

  • Massage and cold compresses may provide temporary relief.

  • Walk, stretch, or take a cold or hot bath.

  • Get regular exercise and a good night's sleep.

  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and medications that can make it worse.

  • Do activities that provide mental stimulation like discussions, needlework, and video games. These may be helpful if you are not able to walk or stretch.

Some medications are effective in relieving the symptoms. However, many of these medications have side effects. Ask your caregiver about medications that may help your symptoms. Correcting iron deficiency may improve symptoms for some patients.