Restless legs syndrome
Restless legs syndrome is a common condition of the nervous system. It causes an overwhelming urge to move your legs. Women are twice as likely to develop restless legs syndrome than men. It's also more common in middle age, although the symptoms, see below, can develop at any age.
Symptoms of restless legs syndrome
Restless legs syndrome typically causes an overwhelming urge to move your legs and an uncomfortable sensation in your legs.
The sensation may also affect your arms, chest and face, too. It has been described as:
- tingling, burning, itching or throbbing
- a ’creepy-crawly’ feeling
- feeling like fizzy water is inside the blood vessels in the legs
- a painful, cramping sensation in the legs, particularly in the calves
These unpleasant sensations can range from mild to unbearable. The sensations are usually worse in the evening and during the night. They can often be relieved by moving or rubbing your legs.
Some people experience symptoms occasionally, while others have them every day.
Just over half of people with restless legs syndrome also experience episodes of lower back pain.
The symptoms can vary from mild to severe. In severe cases, restless legs syndrome can be very distressing and disrupt a person's daily activities.
Causes of restless legs syndrome
In the majority of cases, there's no obvious cause of restless legs syndrome.
In some cases, restless legs syndrome is caused by an underlying health condition, such as iron deficiency anaemia or kidney failure.
There's also a link between restless legs syndrome and pregnancy. About 1 in 5 pregnant women will experience symptoms in the last three months of their pregnancy.
It's not clear exactly why this is. In such cases, restless legs syndrome usually disappears after the woman has given birth.
Treating restless legs syndrome
Mild cases of restless legs syndrome that aren't linked to an underlying health condition may not require any treatment, other than making a few lifestyle changes, such as:
- adopting good sleep habits – for example, following a regular bedtime ritual, sleeping regular hours, and avoiding alcohol and caffeine late at night
- quitting smoking if you smoke
- exercising regularly during the daytime
If your symptoms are more severe, you may need medication to regulate the levels of dopamine and iron in your body.
If restless legs syndrome is caused by iron deficiency anaemia, iron supplements may be all that's needed to treat the symptoms.
The symptoms of restless legs syndrome will usually disappear if it's possible to find out what is causing it.
If the cause is not known, the symptoms can sometimes get worse with time and severely affect the person's life.
The charity Restless Leg Syndrome UK provides information and support for people affected by restless legs syndrome.
More useful links
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
For further information see terms and conditions.