Issue 5 Stories
On-Call Advice

What is restless leg syndrome and what can be done about it?

Blue Ridge Region physicians of Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital and Sentara RMH Medical Center answer your health and wellness questions

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a neurological problem that causes unpleasant feelings, often described as creeping, burning, aching, pulling or “pins-and-needles” sensations in the legs. These feelings, which are generally relieved with movement of the legs, make it difficult for people with the condition to fall asleep or remain asleep. Both women and men get RLS, although it’s more common among women.

In most cases the cause of RLS is unknown, but the syndrome has been associated with a number of conditions, including pregnancy, obesity, smoking, anemia, obstructive sleep apnea, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, nerve damage in the legs and feet, and vitamin or iron deficiencies. There may also be a genetic component, as a person with a family history of RLS is more likely to have the condition.

RLS also has been linked to stimulants and medications such as antidepressants, antihistamines and high blood pressure medications. If you have RLS symptoms and are taking a medication associated with the condition, see your doctor to determine whether that medication can be reduced or replaced. You should not, however, stop taking your prescription medications without your doctor’s consent.

To be diagnosed with RLS, a person must have all of these conditions:

•    Frequent urge to move the legs, usually because of unpleasant sensations in the legs

•    Symptoms that increase after a time of inactivity or rest

•    Symptoms that are relieved with movements like walking or stretching

•    Symptoms that get worse in the evening and at night

People with RLS may find relief by making certain lifestyle changes:

•    Avoiding alcohol and tobacco

•    Establishing a consistent sleep schedule

•    Removing distractions like TVs, radios, computers and phones from the bedroom

•    Regular walking and stretching

•    Taking a warm bath before bed

If these changes don’t help, see your doctor, as RLS symptoms may be caused by an underlying medical condition. If another condition is not the source of the problem, your doctor may be able to prescribe medication that can help relieve the symptoms.

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