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What is restless legs syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) causes an uncontrollable urge to move your legs. The condition, also called Willis-Ekbom disease and periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMD), affects people of all ages. RLS tends to worsen in the evening or overnight when sitting or lying in bed. Therefore, people with RLS commonly have problems getting a good night’s rest.

According to the National Institutes of Health, 7% to 10% of Americans may have RLS. The cause of RLS is unknown.


What are the symptoms of restless legs syndrome?

The main symptom of RLS is feeling like you need to move your legs. The feeling varies from person to person, but you may describe the sensation as creeping, crawling, aching, throbbing or itching.

You may also notice the following:

  • Relief with movement. The uncomfortable sensation in your legs temporarily goes away when you move your legs.
  • A sensation that begins while you are at rest. Needing to move your legs after sitting or lying down.
  • Symptoms worsen in the evening or night. Many RLS symptoms are worse or only present during the evening and overnight hours.


What are the risk factors for restless legs syndrome?

The following factors and conditions can increase your risk of developing RLS:

  • Female
  • Iron deficiency
  • Kidney failure
  • Over age 60
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Pregnancy—especially in the third trimester
  • Spinal cord conditions


How is restless legs syndrome diagnosed?

Your physician can diagnose RLS by conducting a physical exam and asking about your health history and symptoms. Depending on your symptoms, your physician may run tests to rule out other medical conditions that can cause similar symptoms.


What is the treatment for restless legs syndrome?

If an underlying condition, such as iron deficiency, is causing your RLS then treatment will focus on managing that health condition. If another health condition is not causing your RLS then your physician may suggest trying one of the following medications:

  • Dopamine-boosting medication. Higher dopamine levels, a chemical in the brain, can help you get a deeper night’s sleep.
  • Calcium channel medication. Your physician may prescribe a medicine that affects your calcium levels and helps you relax.
  • Muscle relaxant or sleep medication. These medications may help you sleep more so your RLS symptoms do not keep you awake.
  • Opioid medication. These pain-blocking medications can help control RLS, so you get a better night’s sleep. However, physicians use opioids as a last resort because they can be addictive.


What are the home remedies for restless legs syndrome?

You can take steps at home to help manage your symptoms, including: 

  • Alternately applying a heating pad and ice pack
  • Avoiding caffeinated drinks
  • Getting moderate physical activity
  • Massaging your legs
  • Practicing good sleep hygiene, which includes:
  • Establishing set bedtimes and wake times
  • Keeping electronics out of your bedroom
  • Keeping your bedroom very dark
  • Sleeping at least seven hours each night
  • Soaking in a warm bath
  • Using a foot wrap or vibrating pad designed for people with RLS


Find Care at Catholic Health

Call 866-MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362) to find a Catholic Health physician near you.

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