Restless leg syndrome is a disorder characterized by an uncontrollable and overwhelming urge to move the legs (and sometimes the arms) when at rest. Those affected experience unpleasant sensations in the legs often described as pulling, pins and needles, crawling or tingling. Symptoms occur at rest and worsen at night.
During sleep, the legs may begin to move or jerk. It is therefore difficult for individuals with restless leg syndrome to relax and rest. While moving may temporarily lessen the discomfort, it also affects sleep quality, which may lead to daytime fatigue and concentration problems.
Causes and triggers
The exact cause of restless leg syndrome is unknown. However, several risk factors can predispose certain individuals to episodes of restless leg syndrome:
In rare instances, the disorder may be associated with an underlying medical condition such as kidney or liver disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis or Parkinson's disease.
Several measures can help treat restless leg syndrome. If another health problem causes it, that problem should, first and foremost, be addressed. For example, improving diabetes management or taking iron supplements can help eliminate symptoms.
If, as in most cases, there does not appear to be a cause, making lifestyle changes is usually helpful.
Key recommendations include:
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding tobacco, alcohol and stimulants such as caffeine
- Eating a well-balanced diet
To relieve symptoms, massaging or having the feet massaged, applying heat to the legs or taking a hot bath is recommended. If these measures are not enough, the use of certain prescription medications may be considered.
When should I see a healthcare professional?
If you know or suspect that you are suffering from restless leg syndrome, speak to your health provider. If the problem is preventing you from sleeping, it can affect your ability to perform your daily activities. It is therefore important to seek medical advice on how to properly manage symptoms.
Canadian Sleep Society