Common Causes of Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome, or RLS, can have a major impact on your life. Your work may suffer, you may find your relationships strained, and you may not be able to do the things you enjoy doing. Quality sleep is important!

Dr. Michael Newton and his staff are experts in sleep medicine and have many patients with RLS. In some ways RLS is mysterious, but we have discovered some approaches that help. If you’re struggling to get a good  night’s sleep due to RLS, we may be able to find an approach that allows you to rest. 

Restless leg syndrome symptoms

RLS is also called Willis-Ekbom disease, and its main symptom is an unpleasant sensation in your legs that causes an irresistible urge to move them. Usually, this occurs in the late afternoon or evening, and is at the worst at night when you’re resting. It can also happen when you sit or are inactive for a long time, such as during a long car trip or flight.

Since RLS is usually worse at night, it often disturbs your sleep. The uncomfortable sensation in your legs probably eases when you move them, but begins again when you stop moving. This means every time you drift off to sleep you’re likely to feel the urge to move again. 

RLS is considered a sleep disorder because it is usually triggered by resting and sleeping. It’s also sometimes classified as a movement disorder, but the correct classification may be as a neurological sensory disorder. 

The lack of sleep due to RLS can make it difficult for you to concentrate, cause problems with your memory, lead to depression and anxiety, and create issues in your professional and personal life. 

Risk factors for RLS

Unlike many other conditions, RLS can develop at any time during your life. Both men and women can have RLS, though it’s more common in women. It’s also more common with age.

The RLS mystery

At one time, scientists thought that RLS was a problem with the blood vessels in the legs, or that there was a disorder with the nerves of the legs. Researchers have since rejected both of those premises. Today, most experts think that RLS is related to the chemical dopamine. 

Dopamine is important to smooth muscle control. One of the parts of your brain that uses dopamine is your basal ganglia. Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the basal ganglia, and having Parkinson’s increases the likelihood you may develop RLS.

Another potential cause of RLS is pregnancy, especially the last trimester of pregnancy. In the majority of cases, RLS goes away within four weeks of delivery. 

There may be a genetic component to RLS, as it has been shown to run in families, so if members of your family have RLS, you’re more likely to develop it.

RLS has also been linked to some other medical conditions, including: 

Treating RLS

Even though we don’t always fully understand the causes of RLS, we have identified treatments that help. If you have an underlying condition like anemia, we treat that condition first.

Lifestyle changes can help. For example, avoiding tobacco and alcohol, changes to your sleep habits, developing an exercise routine, among others, can ease your symptoms. An iron supplement, antiseizure drugs, and dopamine agents may be good pharmaceutical approaches.

We team with you to find a treatment plan that works for you. If you’ve had trouble sleeping because your legs are uncomfortable, you don’t have to just live in exhaustion. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Newton and begin looking for answers! 

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