Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a condition involving significant discomfort in limbs.

People variously describe the discomfort as pulling, itching, tingling, prickling, crawling, boring or pain. It affects the legs more than the arms, causes very strong urges to move affected limbs—and usually can’t be resisted.

Overview—What is Restless Leg Syndrome?

The significant discomfort of RLS usually occurs when people sit for extended periods at a desk, while driving, during a movie, or flying. RLS is also known to occur when people lie down to sleep.

RLS tends to be worse during evenings—and this can in turn make sleep very difficult. Even once asleep, people with RLS may wake up multiple times during the night because of their legs twitching during sleep—this disturbed sleep can in turn cause feelings of tiredness, irritation, anxiety and depression.

Who Gets Restless Leg Syndrome?

Some 2% to 5% of people, both men and women, experience RLS at some time in their lives. RLS risk increases with age, and it manifests more seriously in the elderly—but can start at any age. RLS can also be associated with pregnancy and chronic kidney disease.

What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?

RLS can be caused by nerve damage in limbs. The risk of RLS is 30% to 50% higher if both parents had or have RLS. RLS occurs sometimes in pregnancy, and is more likely in the last 6 months (it usually goes away after birth).

Diet can contribute to RLS—iron deficiency may be a cause, and RLS has been associated with too much caffeine, with smoking, and with alcohol. Other health issues can also be associated with and lead to RLS, including anaemia, arthritis, kidney problems, or Parkinson’s disease.

How is Restless Leg Syndrome Treated?

Amongst the many ways to relieve RLS symptoms, walking, rubbing, massage, mild exercise and simply movement are counted. Without conscious movement, legs will often jump reflexively to relieve discomfort. Hot baths or showers may help in more mild cases, as may application of heat pads or ice packs, or even alternating between the two. Reducing caffeine, nicotine and alcohol intake can also be effective.

When RLS is caused by another problem (such as iron deficiency), treatment of the underlying condition is recommended. In more serious cases medications can help control RLS symptoms. There are several different medications that can be helpful for reducing symptoms of RLS. Sometimes people need more than one medicine to control RLS and sometimes we need to change peoples medication for RLS as the effectiveness of the medication can wane over time in some people.