Restless Leg Syndrome: Causes and Common Treatments

Sleep Disorders like RLS can leave you feeling groggy during the day

Symptoms and Prevalence of RLS

Restless leg syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is characterized by an irresistible urge to move the body in order to stop an uncomfortable or odd sensation, often described as a burning, itching, or tickling. The prevalence of RLS is hotly debated, with estimates ranging from 4% - 29% of the US population. Approximately two percent of the population experiencing severe symptoms, which can run in families. RLS usually affects the legs, but can also occur in the arms or torso.  Restless leg syndrome occurs in females twice as often as in males, and is more common with those who are Caucasian, iron deficient, pregnant, elderly, or obese. Some cancers, depression, and a sedentary life style have also been linked to restless leg syndrome. People with Parkinson's disease are also more likely to have RLS. The symptoms of the syndrome are treatable, and can often be assuaged by a healthy lifestyle as well as moving around once you begin to experience symptoms in the night. Restless leg syndrome can also be treated with medicine and by addressing nutritional decencies. If you think you have this disorder, you should consult with your physician. Symptoms typically get worse in the evening. The sensations in the body part is often described as:

  • crawling, creeping, pulling, throbbing, arching, itching, and electrical tingling. 

These feelings in the limbs cause discomfort and frequent awakenings from sleep.


Causes of RLS

While the exact cause of RLS remains somewhat of a mystery, there is a clear link between RLS an the neurotransmitter dopamine. This may explain the prevalence of RLS in Parkinson's patients who also have a dopamine imbalance. Medications can trigger the disorder, like antidepressants, antipsychotics, antihistamines, and calcium channel blockers. There are two known types of RLS: early onset (before 45) and late onset (after 45). Early onset typically worsens over time while late onset starts suddenly and then typically does not worsen. The circadian rhythm also plays a role where having an irregular rhythm can exacerbate the issue. Changes in body temperature at the wrong time can trigger the release of hormones that impact RLS.  Therefore, More consistent bedtime and wake times are therefore often recommended. 

Treatment of RLS

Often times RLS goes untreated because people don't believe they will be taken seriously when they see their doctor. However, since RLS can negatively impact sleep quality, it is important to get this condition treated since sleep quality relates to almost every major health outcome. You should speak with your doctor if you think you have RLS. Certain medications have proven effective in treating RLS. Since RLS is linked to an iron deficiency, an iron supplement or eat more meat can also be beneficial. Furthermore, since potassium contributes to muscle function, getting more potassium and D3 can also help. Foods that are rich in potassium include:

  • bananas, dried fruits, beans, lentils, potatoes, winter squash, spinach, broccoli, beet greens, avocado, bananas, cantaloupe, oranges, coconut water, tomatoes, yogurt, cashews, and almonds.

Stopping alcohol and tobacco use can also reduce the symptoms. Like most things, exercise is also shown to help.