Restless Legs

  • Basics

    Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a common neurological disorder that causes burning, creeping, or pulling sensations in the legs, as well as an uncontrollable urge to move in order to stop the discomfort.

    Experts estimate that 5% to 15% of the people in the U.S. suffer from the condition. For some, it’s a mild annoyance. It severely disrupts the lives of others.

    The symptoms are usually worse at night, and often lead to loss of sleep. This results in feelings of exhaustion and irritability during the day.

    About 80% of the people with restless legs syndrome also suffer from a separate condition called periodic limb movements in sleep (PLMS). Periodic limb movements in sleep are involuntary jerking movements in an extremity; the extremity repeatedly moves or jumps. You can have PLMS without having RLS, and vice versa.

    While there is no cure for most types of RLS, you can treat the underlying causes, if any, and adopt changes in lifestyle and diet to help reduce symptoms.

  • Causes

    In most cases, the cause of RLS remains unknown; there may in fact be more than one cause.

    The condition runs in families; children of RLS sufferers are more likely than other people to develop RLS.

    Some studies point to an imbalance in a chemical messenger in the brain called dopamine. In addition, medications, chronic conditions, and consuming certain foods may bring about the sensations.

    A medical condition (such as iron deficiency), caffeine, or medication can cause or contribute to RLS. If your restless legs symptoms are due to a medical condition, treating that illness may decrease your symptoms. Anemia, vitamin deficiencies, diabetes mellitus, alcoholism, peripheral neuropathy, cancer, renal failure, and arthritis are some of the disorders associated with RLS. An imbalance in the body’s minerals can also cause RLS symptoms. You may be able to correct a vitamin deficiency by taking supplements, and therefore stop the creeping feeling. Drinking coffee or consuming other beverages (colas, teas) or foods (chocolate) containing caffeine may increase the symptoms. Therefore, eliminating caffeine from your diet may be a good idea.

    Restless legs syndrome frequently occurs during pregnancy. About 15% of pregnant women develop RLS symptoms during the last few months of their pregnancy. The sensations usually stop after the woman delivers the baby.

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