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Restless Leg Syndrome

pair of legs in bed
pair of legs in bed with second set to demonstrate moving

What is Restless Leg Syndrome?

You have a strong urge to move your legs which you may not be able to resist. The need to move is often accompanied by uncomfortable sensations. Some words used to describe these sensations include: creeping, itching, pulling, creepy-crawly, tugging, or gnawing. Your restless leg syndrome symptoms start or become worse when you are resting. The longer you are resting, the greater the chance the symptoms will occur and the more severe they are likely to be.

Your RLS symptoms get better when you move your legs. The relief can be complete or only partial but generally starts very soon after starting an activity. Relief persists as long as the motor activity continues.

Your RLS symptoms are worse in the evening especially when you are lying down. Activities that bother you at night do not bother you during the day or didn’t when symptoms first started occurring.

What non-drug treatments are recommended for Restless Leg Syndrome?

In addition to medications, there are other things you and your doctor can consider when trying to help you deal with RLS. These options may include:

  • Checking to see if there is an underlying iron or vitamin deficiency and then possibly supplementing your diet with iron, vitamin B12 or folate.
  • Looking at medications you may be taking which make RLS worse. These may include drugs used to treat high blood pressure, heart conditions, nausea, colds, allergies and depression.
  • Looking at any herbal and over-the-counter medicines you may be taking to see if they could be worsening your RLS.
  • Identifying habits and activities that worsen RLS symptoms.
  • Looking at your diet to assure it is healthy and balanced.
  • Discussing whether or not antihistamines could be contributing to your RLS.
  • Eliminating your alcohol intake.
  • Looking at various activities that may help you personally deal with RLS. These could include walking, stretching, taking a hot or cold bath, massaging, acupressure, or relaxation techniques.
  • Attempting to keep your mind engaged with activities like discussions, needlework or video games when you have to stay seated.
  • Implementing a program of good sleep habits.
  • Possibly eliminating caffeine from your diet to aid in general sleep hygiene.
  • OTC simple analgesics like Tylenol, Ibuprofen, or Aleve.

Medications that can make Restless Leg Syndrome worse

These drugs include calcium-channel blockers (used to treat high blood pressure and heart conditions), Reglan (metoclopramide), most antinausea medications, some cold and allergy medications, major tranquilizers (including haloperidol and phenothiazines), and the antiseizure medication, phenytoin. Most medications used to treat depression increase the symptoms of RLS.

Are there any substances that should be avoided?

The use of caffeine often intensifies RLS symptoms. Caffeine-containing products, including chocolate and caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea, and soft drinks should be avoided. The consumption of alcohol also increases the span or intensity of symptoms for most individuals.

Is there a known cause for Restless Leg Syndrome?

Extensive research into the cause of RLS is occurring worldwide. A single unifying cause has not been identified, but we are getting closer. Here is what we do know:

  • RLS often runs in families. This is called primary or familial RLS. Researchers are currently looking for the gene or genes that cause RLS.
  • RLS sometimes appears to be a result of another condition, which, when present, worsens the underlying RLS. This is called secondary RLS.
  • Up to 25% of women develop RLS during pregnancy but symptoms often disappear after giving birth.
  • Low iron levels with out without anemia frequently contribute to a worsening of RLS.
  • RLS is very common in patients requiring dialysis for end-stage renal disease.
  • Damage to the nerves of the hands or feet (i.e., peripheral neuropathy) from any number of causes including diabetes contributes to RLS.

What is augmentation?

If augmentation occurs, your usual dose of a dopaminergic agent (Mirapex or Requip) will relieve your symptoms so that you are able to sleep at night, but eventually, the unpleasant sensations will develop earlier in the day. Augmentation of RLS symptoms may occur after an initial period of relief with dopaminergic agents, and unfortunately, increasing your dosage will probably worsen your symptoms. If augmentation occurs, you and your doctor can work together to find a new drug regimen that will work for you.


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