Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and More

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), often described as a sensation of needing to move your legs, is a neurological disorder that can cause significant discomfort and disrupt sleep patterns. Characterized by tingling, itching, or even aching feelings in the legs, the symptoms are usually worse in the evening or nighttime when you’re sitting or lying down. This guide will delve into the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for RLS, offering a comprehensive understanding of this often misunderstood condition.

What Is Restless Leg Syndrome?

Restless Leg Syndrome, also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a sensory and motor disorder that affects the nervous system. It’s characterized by an uncontrollable urge to move the legs due to uncomfortable sensations in the limbs. RLS can also affect other parts of the body, such as the arms, chest, or head.

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The severity of RLS varies from person to person, with some experiencing mild symptoms while others have more severe and disruptive symptoms. Individuals with RLS may also experience periodic limb movements (PLMs) during sleep, which can further disrupt the quality of their rest.


The exact cause of RLS is still unknown, but research suggests that it may be related to abnormalities in dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that helps control muscle movement, and disruptions in its production or function may contribute to RLS symptoms.

RLS can also be associated with certain medical conditions such as iron deficiency anemia, kidney disease, and peripheral neuropathy. In some cases, pregnancy or medication side effects may also trigger RLS symptoms.

Related: Insomnia: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

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The symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome can be multi-faceted and often vary from person to person. They include:

  • Apparent need to move: This is often accompanied by uncomfortable sensations in the legs. The need to move is usually, but not always, relieved by movement.
  • Increased symptoms at rest: A unique feature of RLS is that the symptoms get worse when you’re resting. The longer you’re resting, the greater the chance the symptoms will occur and the more severe they’re likely to be.
  • Nighttime leg twitching: Many people with RLS also have a more common condition called periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD), which involves repetitive cramping or jerking of the legs during sleep.
  • Symptoms improve with activity: Most people find some relief from their RLS symptoms through activity, such as walking or stretching.
  • Nighttime worsening: RLS symptoms are usually worse at night.
  • Sleep disturbances: Severe RLS can cause significant sleep disturbances and lead to insomnia and daytime sleepiness. This can affect overall quality of life and lead to other health issues.

Treatment Options

There is currently no cure for RLS, but there are various treatment options available to help manage the symptoms. These include lifestyle changes, medications, and therapies. Some common treatment options include:

  • Medications: Dopamine agonists, which mimic the effects of dopamine in the brain, are often prescribed for RLS. Other medications such as anticonvulsants, opioids, and sleep aids may also be used in some cases.
  • Iron supplements: If iron deficiency is believed to be a contributing factor to RLS symptoms, iron supplements may be recommended.
  • Lifestyle changes: Simple lifestyle changes like regular exercise, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and maintaining a regular sleep schedule may help manage RLS symptoms.
  • Therapies: Relaxation techniques, such as yoga or meditation, can also provide relief for some individuals with RLS. Some may also benefit from massage therapy or acupuncture.

It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new treatment or medication for RLS. Medical professionals can assess your specific symptoms and medical history to determine the optimal course of action to take.

Coping With RLS

Living with RLS can be challenging, but there are ways to cope and manage symptoms effectively. Some tips for coping with RLS include:

  • Create a sleep-friendly environment: Ensure that your bedroom provides an environment that promotes restful sleep. This entails maintaining darkness, tranquility, and a pleasant temperature in the room.
  • Exercise regularly: Regular physical activity can help reduce RLS symptoms and improve overall sleep quality.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene: Establish a consistent bedtime routine and avoid stimulating activities before bed, such as using electronic devices.
  • Track your symptoms: Keeping a journal or using a symptom tracker app can help identify triggers and patterns in your RLS symptoms. This information can be useful for developing an effective treatment plan with your healthcare provider.
  • Seek support: RLS can be frustrating and challenging to live with, so don’t hesitate to reach out for support from friends, family, or a support group. Seeking solace in conversations with those who truly empathize with your experiences can offer invaluable emotional nourishment and support.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is RLS hereditary?

There is compelling evidence to indicate that Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) may possess a genetic element and exhibit familial patterns.

Can children have Restless Leg Syndrome?

Yes, although it’s less common, children can develop RLS. In these cases, the condition is often passed down through genetics.

Does everyone with RLS experience PLMs?

No, not everyone with RLS will also experience periodic limb movements. However, it is a common comorbidity.

Can pregnancy trigger RLS symptoms?

Yes, for some women, pregnancy can worsen or trigger RLS symptoms. In most cases, the symptoms will resolve after giving birth.

Is there a cure for Restless Leg Syndrome?

Currently, there is no cure for RLS, but there are various treatment options available to help manage symptoms and improve overall quality of life. Depending on the severity of symptoms and underlying causes, some individuals may experience relief from medications or lifestyle changes. It’s essential to work closely with a healthcare provider to find the most effective treatment plan for your specific needs.


Restless Leg Syndrome is a complex disorder that can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. While there is no cure, understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options can help individuals manage their RLS symptoms effectively. If you or someone you know is experiencing RLS symptoms, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment. With the right approach, it is possible to live a fulfilling life despite RLS. Remember, you are not alone in this journey, and there is support available to help cope with RLS effectively.

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