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Restless legs syndrome

Written by Caidr's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 26.01.2023 | 2 min read

Restless legs syndrome is where you get an irresistible urge to move the legs that is difficult to overcome. It can affect women more than men but can affect any person at any age.

What are the causes of restless legs syndrome?

When there is no obvious cause, which is the case with the majority of cases of restless leg syndrome, it is known as primary or idiopathic restless legs syndrome. This can run in families.

Secondary restless legs syndrome is where there is an underlying condition that causes the condition. Some of these causes can include iron deficiency anaemia, nerve damage, or kidney disease. It can also be a side effect of certain medications and it is also a common symptom during pregnancy, affecting 1 in 4 pregnancies in the final trimester (29 - 40 weeks). The symptoms often get better shortly after delivery. 

What are the symptoms of restless legs syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome is a very unpleasant condition in which you get an irresistible urge to move your legs. It can also create an unpleasant feeling of something crawling or irritating your lower legs. It is difficult to stop or settle and the symptoms are often worse at night.

It is easy to understand how these symptoms can be really distressing for individuals as they feel there is nothing you can do to stop them from happening and nothing you can do to make them go away. Occasionally, it can be related to a condition known as'periodic limb movement disorder' during sleep, which is sudden uncontrollable jerking of the legs or arms.

How long does restless legs syndrome last?

Restless legs syndrome is commonly a lifelong condition. There is no cure, although there are various management techniques and therapies that are used to try and reduce the symptoms and disturbance to daily function.

What are the treatment options?

Primary restless syndrome that cannot be attributed to any underlying medical condition can be difficult to treat. With milder cases, it can be helpful to exercise regularly to improve blood flow, quit smoking which can narrow blood vessels, and make sure you are generally well-rested and hydrated. 

If there is an underlying cause of restless legs syndrome, it is best to treat this first to see if it helps to resolve the symptoms. On occasion medication that increases the effect of dopamine can be trialed to increase the levels in the body, as restless legs syndrome can be associated with low dopamine levels.

However, as with any medication, there are side effects, and long-term use of this drug can actually sometimes cause the symptoms to worsen. Other medications like sedatives or opioids can be used to reduce the severity of the restless legs syndrome and help you have a more uninterrupted and restful nights sleep. 

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