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Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless Leg Syndrome

Approximately 12 million Americans suffer from restless legs syndrome (RLS), a neurological condition that can lead to sleep deprivation. RLS symptoms can strike anytime, day or night, but are most common at night. People with RLS have an irresistible urge to move their legs and often feel like their legs are tingling or crawling. The sensation becomes worse when resting and are relieved, at least partially, by moving the legs.

While RLS symptoms can also occur during the day, it is classified as a sleep disorder because sufferers generally have a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep. Their legs jerk every 20-30 seconds throughout the night, waking them up and leading to sleep deprivation.



Causes of RLS

RLS is a disorder that is based in the brain or spinal column. Scientists have not yet discovered an exact cause, although they suspect it may have a genetic basis and may be linked to a brain chemical disorder.

Other conditions can trigger RLS, including:

  • Medical problems such as diabetes mellitus, kidney disease, Parkinson’s disease, or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Pregnancy
  • Neurologic lesions
  • Medications, including tricyclic antidepressants, anti-nausea, and some cold and allergy drugs
  • Varicose veins

Diagnosing RLS

Although RLS is frequently misdiagnosed and left untreated it is a treatable condition. If you suspect you have RLS, talk to your physicians. They will take a medical history of you and your family members and see if you have any other medical conditions that could be triggering your RLS symptoms.

Treating RLS

There is no cure for RLS but you can find relief for your symptoms through behavior modification and medication. In addition, if your RLS is caused by another condition, your physicians will treat that underlying condition.

Behavior modification

Some habits and behavior changes you can make to treat your RLS symptoms include:

  • Starting an exercise program
  • Wrapping your legs in an ace bandage or wearing tight pantyhose
  • Taking iron supplements
  • Avoiding coffee, chocolate, and caffeine, especially in the evening
  • Maintaining a regular sleep schedule


Your physicians may prescribe depressants or anticonvulsants to give you relief from RLS. Common choices include:

  • Dopaminergic agents such as Levodopa and Carbidopa (Sinemet), which decrease leg sensations
  • Sedatives such as Temazepam (Restoril), Alprazolam (Xanax), and Clonazepam (Klonopin) to help you sleep
  • Anticonvulsants such as Gabapentin (Neurontin) to treat severe muscle spasms
  • Alpha2 agonists such as Clonidine Hydrochloride (Catapres) to reduce muscle movements and sensations

Opiates such as codeine and propoxyphene (Darvon, Dolene) may also be prescribed when other medications don’t work.



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