Restless Leg Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

People with restless leg syndrome experience a tingling sensation in their legs that is only relieved by moving them. Trying to ignore the tingling makes it worse, creating an overwhelming urge to move the legs. The sensation in the legs can be anywhere from being a mild irritation to intolerable pain.

Restless leg syndromeRestless leg syndrome is quite common. Statistics from the NHS show that 1 in 10 people will be affected by it at some point in their lives, and women are twice as likely to develop the condition. It’s more common in middle age, generally over the age of 40 onwards, but symptoms can appear at any age. Many people with restless leg syndrome remember having very minor symptoms as a child.

Restless leg syndrome often prevents people from falling asleep and reports of insomnia caused by restless leg syndrome is common. Additionally it can cause stress, anxiety and depression if left untreated.

Restless Leg Syndrome Symptoms

People with restless leg syndrome vary in their description of the sensation, but common words used to describe the feeling in the legs include:

  • Prickling
  • Crawling
  • Fizzing
  • Bubbling

These feelings result in a deep itch, and there is a strong urge to move the legs which provides a temporary relief. The sensation varies from being mild to severe and is sometimes reported to get worse over time. The sensation can spread from the legs to the body, face or arms. Sometimes it may only be felt on just one side of the body.

The feeling caused by restless leg syndrome gets worse during the night when you begin to feel sleepy and when lying down in bed. Additionally the symptoms can arise from sitting down for a long period of time such as when at work, traveling, or watching TV.

To try and stop the feeling, people with restless leg syndrome are seen to move their legs around in bed, rub them vigorously, and get up to go and walk around the house to get them moving. These visual symptoms are what gives the condition its name.

Four out of five people with restless leg syndrome also have a condition called periodic limb movements or PLM. This causes involuntary twitching movements during sleep that can be as regular as once every 10 seconds to once a minute. It’s usually the bedside partner who notices these symptoms since the person with the periodic limb movements is fast asleep and so is often unaware of them, although the twitching can wake them up in severe cases.

People with restless leg syndrome experience a marked decrease in the quality of their sleep, spending more time in light sleep and less time in deep sleep. This means that although a person with restless leg syndrome might sleep for a good amount of time, they would still experience daytime sleepiness.

What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome

Exactly what causes restless leg syndrome is not yet fully understood. It is believed to run in families, with recent research showing that there could be a series of genes that causes restless leg syndrome.

Low levels of dopamine has been associated with restless leg syndrome, which is a chemical involved with controlling muscle movement. It could similarly be brought on by iron deficiency.

Triggers that either bring on or worsen the symptoms of restless leg syndrome include:

  • Being overweight
  • Stress
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Lack of exercise
  • Lack of sleep

Restless leg syndrome may also be caused by a separate health related issue.

One in five women will experience it during pregnancy, often during the last three months before giving birth.

Other health conditions known to cause restless leg syndrome include:

  • Kidney failure
  • Parkinson’s
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Certain types of medication can also cause or make symptoms worse, including certain types of anti depressants and anti psychotic drugs.

Restless Leg Syndrome Treatment

If restless leg syndrome is caused by a separate health condition, then treating the primary condition often causes it to go away. It may be useful to reassess any current medication to consider whether any are known to cause restless leg syndrome as an unwanted side effect.

If there is no other health concern that could be causing restless leg syndrome, it can often be treated with medication. Common medications include iron supplements, dopamine and clonazepam but often experimentation is required to find the right mix of medication that works best.

Reduction & Management

There are certain lifestyle changes that can help reduce the symptoms of restless leg syndrome, including:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Avoiding caffeine
  • Taking regular exercise

Doing leg stretches, having a leg massage, and visualizing your legs relaxing, have all been reported to help relieve restless leg syndrome.

Since restless leg syndrome often gets worse as you feel sleepy, it’s important to time your sleep well. Stick to a solid sleep schedule and keep to good sleep habits to make falling asleep as easy as possible and to avoid drowsiness.

Sometimes painkillers are useful if the sensation in the legs is painful. You could try learning some pain management techniques yourself either as an alternative to, or alongside pain medication.

Some people use wraps, compresses, and take hot or cold baths to manage the condition. There isn’t any one reliable home remedy for restless leg syndrome, although you should be able to find something that works well alongside medication from your doctor.