Restless legs syndrome 

Introduction 

Restless legs syndrome

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a fairly common condition that causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs and is related to an imbalance of the brain chemical dopamine. Dr Julian Spinks emphasises the importance of good sleep and talks about how the symptoms of RLS can be reduced.

Media last reviewed: 19/03/2013

Next review due: 19/03/2015

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Restless legs syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease (WED), is a common condition affecting the nervous system.

It causes an overwhelming, irresistible urge to move the legs, and occasionally the arms. It also causes an unpleasant feeling in the feet, calves and thighs, which is often felt as a crawling or creeping sensation. The sensation is often worse in the evening or at night.

Restless legs syndrome is also associated with involuntary jerking of the legs and arms, known as periodic limb movements.

Symptoms can vary from being mild to severe. In severe cases, the condition can be distressing and can disrupt daily activities.

Some people have symptoms now and again, while others have them every day. Read more about the symptoms of restless legs syndrome.

Causes of RLS

In the majority of cases, there is no obvious cause of restless legs syndrome. Doctors may refer to this as idiopathic RLS, or primary RLS. This type of restless legs syndrome can run in families.

Some neurologists (experts in treating conditions that affect the nervous system) share the opinion that symptoms may have something to do with how the body handles a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine plays a role in controlling muscle movement and may be responsible for the involuntary leg movements associated with restless legs syndrome.

Some cases of restless legs syndrome are caused by an underlying health condition, such as iron deficiency anaemia, or kidney failure. Doctors may refer to this as secondary RLS.

There is also a link between restless legs syndrome and pregnancy and around one in five pregnant women will experience symptoms in the last three months of their pregnancy, although it is not clear exactly why. In this case, it often goes away once the woman has given birth.

Read more about the causes of restless legs syndrome.

Treating RLS

Mild cases of restless legs syndrome that are not linked to an underlying health condition may not require any treatment other than making a few lifestyle changes, such as:

  • adopting good sleep hygiene - for example, sleeping regular hours and avoiding alcohol and caffeine late at night
  • quitting smoking (if you smoke)
  • exercising regularly during the daytime

If the symptoms are more severe, medication may be needed to regulate the levels of dopamine and iron in the body.

If restless legs syndrome is caused by iron deficiency anaemia, for example, then iron supplements may be all that is needed to treat the symptoms.

Read more about the treatment of restless legs syndrome.

Who is affected?

As many as one in ten people are affected by restless legs syndrome at some point in their life.

Women are twice as likely to develop restless legs syndrome than men. The condition is also more common in middle age, but the symptoms can develop at any age, including childhood.

Outlook

If you are able to address the underlying cause of restless legs syndrome, the symptoms will usually go away. 

However, if the cause is unknown, the symptoms can get worse with time and severely affect the person's life. It's not life-threatening, but it can severely disrupt sleep (insomnia) and trigger anxiety and depression.

The charity Restless Leg Syndrome UK offers support and more information for people affected by restless legs syndrome, and they may be able to put you in touch with others affected by the condition.




Page last reviewed: 18/07/2013

Next review due: 18/07/2015

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Comments

The 31 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Mjfan said on 30 August 2014

Forget "more exercise, stop smoking, etc. I suffered with this complaint every night and no matter what I did nothing worked.. I tried cutting down tea and completely stopping and I still suffered, I tried exercise and stretching before bed I still suffered, I tried decaff drinks, relaxing muscles at bed time, that's right I still suffered..went for walk before bed :( ......Then about a month ago I had a nasty kidney infection and decided that I would drink lots of water throughout the day and evening and hey presto not had restless leg syndrome since....I am absolutely gobsmacked....but thinking about it cramp is caused by dehydration, so this strange feeling could also be caused by it...anyway whatever the medical facts this works for me and I genuinely hope it works for everyone else !

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DaveT77 said on 14 August 2014

Hi I'm a 37 year old male that has just started to suffer from what has been diagnosed as restless leg syndrome... It started as a discomfort (a bit like when you have sat in the cinema too long) and when I was sitting constantly fidgeting / moving. This went on for over a week and gradually got worse... Then one day after about two weeks it got to the stage where I was standing for around 30mins and I physically couldn't stand any more I had to lie on the floor raising my legs to feel comfortable.. I felt like I couldn't stand anymore, from this point I couldn't sleep or get comfortable at all. I went to the doctors, who prescribed ropinerole for symptoms and ziopline (maybe spelt wrong) for sleeping. This didn't really help the sleeping medication I stopped taking as did nothing... I then saw a specialist how put me on gabapentin for symptoms and amytripline (again maybe spelt wrong) for my sleep.... I could not believe the difference I went from not being able to sleep in a bed and getting maybe 2 hours sleep a night, to sleeping in a bed for 6-7 hours undisturbed. Also the discomfort I was feeling and having to move decreased by 90%. I am still new to this as symptoms only started 2months ago, but after 6 weeks without being able to work I'm now starting to return in light duties as my job involves me standing all the time. I hope my experiences are helpful I know everyone is different. Just to warn you the amytripline gives you a dry mouth so you drink and endless supply of water!! I will check this site agin if anyone has any questions or comments for me.

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Carole Screen said on 13 August 2014

It is such a relief to read these comments and realise that I'm struggling with something real and recognised. I've had these symptoms on and off for 30 thirty years. I take Gabapentin which has helped a little but have been told that nothing can be done, so I'm really heartened to read all of these suggestions and strategies to try.
I suspected dairy produce might be a problem. I've eliminated caffeine from my diet, eat plenty of fruit and some veg. Exercise is difficult because of arthritis.
I have a further complication in that I take Lithium and I understand that can also cause such symptoms.
I look forward to trying out some of these suggestions and getting to sleep before 4am. Thanks everybody.

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Lasto7 said on 12 August 2014

Red tony say quinine can only be had via a particular Tonic water brand, not true there are many brands of tonic water many much cheaper, mute point perhaps but
relevant.

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redtony said on 06 August 2014

There seems to be some anecdotal evidence that quinine is successful in alleviating the symptoms of RLS and also muscle cramps. The only way that quinine can be taken now is via Schweppes Tonic Water, as far as I know. It is suggested that a 8-10oz (half-pint) drink of Tonic Water before bedtime can have dramatic results.

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ibssufferer said on 26 June 2014

Please help! Did not get to sleep until 4am last night. Have just sat down and had tea after a 4 mile run and its starting already. I need something to alleviate my symptoms. Please please help! I am 27 and exercise regularly.

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56Morrisman said on 26 April 2014

Six or seven years ago I started to develop RLS and was totally benused by it. I was very restless in bed for 2 or 3 hours before I went to sleep. I had a real deep pain in my buttucks which just occurred as I was going to sleep and seemd to come on and stay there. It wasn't until I read an article in a newspaper about it. It gave various pieces of advice and one was to cut caffine from your diet. And surprise , surprise one of the things that stopped it in its feet was drinking decaffinated coffee and tea. I did drink a lot of coffee at work and found when I cut back it seemed to reduced the amount of symptoms in the evening. Now and then when having a normal coffee after a meal on a night out, it returns with a vengence. Also sweets and chocolate if eaten on an evening that also triggers my RLS. If that happens I need to get up and drink plenty of water, this seems to flush the system of what ever chemicals are causing the RLS. Above all keep well hydrated during the day.

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Moira14 said on 21 April 2014

I have just had a total hip replacement and my restless legs have got much worse. I can't sleep because of this and have tried taking extra pramipexole and gabapentin but they don't work and I am unsteady on the crutches.
I have been helped by an homeopathic remedy. I don't know what it's called but ask around and you too might get some relief. I am convinced my rls is caused to a large extent by stress so I'm going to try hypnosis. Has anyone any experience of this?

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Suffer no longer said on 06 April 2014

I am 57 years old and have suffered with RLS since I was in my teens. When I was pregnant , late 20's early 30's I literally almost lost my my mind with it. I suffered way longer than I should have. My doctor prescribed medication that made it worse. It wasn t until I learned how to treat it my self that I got any relief. For me and I believe anybody who truly has this disease medication is necessary. I take Mirapex which has been a godsend. Nobody needs to suffer with this, there is an algorithm on the mayo clinic site to help with medication treatment.

The key in taking the medication is to take it early enough in the evening before the symptoms start.
If you wait until the symptoms begin you will suffer for a few hours before the symptoms subside.

This is a serious life altering disease and anybody suffering should insist on getting the proper treatment.
For people that say take a hot bath, etc. Do not truly have or understand RLS?

Good luck to all of you suffering.

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Andrew2003 said on 04 April 2014

I'm a 33 year old male having suffered RLS for a long time. It comes and goes in weekly/monthly waves but when it's bad it effects my legs and and my arms. Its worse when I'm up late or tired (so I try and sleep earlier) and has been torturous on long flights. I've tried lots of self help solutions without real success and had nights of frustration, anger and complete despair. However, I recently came across an article relating to deficiency of chemicals in the brain relating to RLS and how the same chemicals are produced during sex... It works for me although the RLS relief is limited to 15-30mins. If I don't sleep within that period RLS can creep back. I've since altered how I deal with RLS so whenever I feel the symptoms in bed I THINK of things to get aroused... rather than actual masturbation. I'm not sure that thinking makes a difference but the arousal can be more intense and it's easier to switch the stimulation on and off. I don't need to orgasm, I'm aroused for a minute or so and then return my thoughts to sleeping. This is usually enough to relieve the RLS symptoms so that I sleep. Again it is temporary and seems to depend on how long I was aroused for but if I don't sleep within that period I can run the process again... So far it works for me and I've been managing RLS like this for over 6 months. I hope this helps others with RLS.

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madscotwoman said on 19 January 2014

Hi ooakdiddydolls, You sound just like me in symptoms, age and life style although I have never smoked. I was at my Drs last week and said I was fed up feeling 'old' not being able to walk any distance fed up with tingling feet and my partner complaining I kick him all night. Sometime my duvet even feels to heavy on my legs. Not got a lot of help of my dr at the moment as I have been having severe pains on my face and head and that was a priority - diagnosed as tringominal neuralgia which is also a nerve related condition. I feel as though my nervous system is shutting down on me. I do feel sorry for you as mentally I want to do things but physically my body cant!!!! My mum suffers from RLS and was tld by her Dr to soak some raisins in gin then eat some every day as the quinine helps.

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ooakdiddydolls said on 15 January 2014

I have been using quinine tablets for my rls, I did try the ropinrole but the never worked for me, I was diagnosed about 2 months ago, I also get it in my arms.
I gave up smoking about 11 months ago, put on a it of weight up to 12 stone now, I'm 47 and height is approx 5" 4. I've had 3 children and not a lazy person, but wouldn't say over active, unless you include running after my lot and doing 3 cleaning jobs is lazy lol. Anyway, my problem is I have been having trouble with painful legs, when I get up from a seat I have to wait a minute or two before I an get going , or when lying in bed my legs are very painful , I feel like I've been running , I can even sit of the floor with my daughter for more than 5 minutes, as I sit here in bed writing this my legs are hurting, my rls seems to be ok at the minute, and I have spoken to my doctor about the rest of my leg pains, on two occasions and he basically told me to exercise more. And he said its because of the weight I have put on. And maybe my body getting ready for the "change" ( which isn't even an issue yet) I do not know anybody like me with this problem, don't know what to do, fed up feeling like an old lady who needs new hips and knees. Oh they did test my thyroid with bloody test, and all ok . any help would be appreciated. PS. I don't really drink either . thanks for reading

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gflewitt said on 03 October 2013

Hi all, im 28 and have rls. I was reading other people comments and noone was giving ropinirole to take for rls, I was and now worried I am taking something I shouldn't! Plz if you are taking ropinirole aswell let me know thanks.

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Big Bad Don said on 09 September 2013

Hey folks, I was suffering from RLS for years with it slowly getting more frequent. It was making my life misery as the frustration of not being able to sleep grew and grew!
I contacted my doctor and he explained what it was and that he could help.
He suggested I try Pramipexole. This is generally used as a treatment for Parkinson's, but it is a fraction of the dose that is used in my case! It is brilliant, as long as I remember to take my one pill 2hours before bed I get a RLS free night!
Contact your GP, they will be able to help you:-)

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Sam_sherratt_88 said on 21 August 2013

Hi can someone give me any info please I just want to know wether 2year olds can get this because my son keeps waking up during the night screaming and complaining that his foot hurts I massage it n he god straight back to sleep but this is happening like 3 to 4 times a night and with the symptoms on this page it's sounds about the same

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johnjtapley said on 21 June 2013

Sufferer for 15 years. Affects calf muscles. Both legs. My solutions as follows.

1. Amiltriptaline. Mainly used for mild depression and/or sleep disorders so acts as a mild sleeping sedative. I'm on a low dose as prescribed from my doctor. Taken 2hrs before bed.

2. If you'd rather not use medication the following works almost as well. Support stocking around the affected area...in my case my calf muscles (both legs). Elasticated bandages work as well. Wrap them around your legs nice and tight (without causing discomfort). I've even gone as far as (and this is going to sound silly) a pair of socks with the toes cut out. Went away for the weekend and forgot my medication.

Hope this helps.

All the best.

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celticgall said on 14 June 2013

I have suffered from RLS for many years. This may sound ridiculus but I have a magnet in my bed which is near my legs and the symptoms at night have simply disappeared. If I sit for too long, I place the magnet under my knees and the problem is solved. Don't remember who told me this some years ago but it works for me.

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RSLSufferer said on 16 September 2012

I've had RSL for about 6 years ( the full works - legs, arms, torso and really annoyingly, fingers ) and its getting worse, though usually appears in bouts. I find taking good vitamin and mineral supplements often helps reduce symptoms almost immediately. On a day to day basis my one fail safe measure that brings a wonderful symptomless night's sleep is simply pushing the bed up against a wall and jambing the offending limb down the side. I know - it sounds odd, but it works. Obviously when its both legs its a real nuisance. I have to be prepared to sleep at either end of the bed to target the kicking limb, this might happen several times a night during bad bouts. I hope this brings you a better night sleep :)

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Doylabot said on 08 March 2012

I'm really pleased to read that some of you are finding different methods to ease the symptoms, I also used to find that a leg massage would help, if you can fall asleep quickly then this is often good enough, same with cold showers.

I find cary grant's comments particularly interesting as I also eat a lot of bananas and this could possibly have contributed to my symptoms disappearing.

It is difficult to be absolutely certain what worked as my diet forced me to remove all dairy products, wheat, sugars, and all artificial additives. Naturally this led to me increasing my fruit and vegetable intake to ensure I received enough nutrition.

From other articles i have read it would appear that dairy products are the most likely link to this condition. It is such a pity that no-one has followed my advice really as it doesn't hurt to go without milk etc for a month - at least you'll know at the end! but then we are a nation of tea lovers, maybe some would rather have rls than go without a cuppa.

Good luck to you all and take care.

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cary grant said on 05 February 2012

I've found two things which help the condition of restless leg syndrome;

1. banana's - sounds odd but the potassium and chlorides in bananas may help the condition as they replenish lost hydrates from the body

2. a device that my son bought me called circulation max - it uses EMS technology. i place my feet on the foot pads and electricla impulses go through the soles of my feet. this then contracts and relaxes my calf muscles. this action seems to get rid of the tension and stiffness before i go to bed at night. i use it for 30 mins just before i sleep

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noor31 said on 08 December 2011

I have been suffering from RLS from childhood but could never figure out why .I started massaging my legs with almond oil downwards before sleeping and it works like magic. you all should give it a try maybe it works for u .

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noor31 said on 08 December 2011

I have been suffering from RLS from childhood but could never figure out why .I started massaging my legs with almond oil downwards before sleeping and it works like magic. you all should give it a try maybe it works for u .

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QueenieLaureenie said on 29 November 2011

Until coming across the name for RLS purely by chance (I had been watching an episode of One Foot in the Grave, and it is mentioned Victor is an RLS sufferer) I always assumed it was just me and my family that suffered from it.
I'm relieved to finally have a proper medical name for it (As it runs in our family, starting with my great, great Grandma Beevers, it was always referred to as 'The Beevers Leg'.)
Now I can finally seek treatment for what I always thought was a family foible.

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marylou53 said on 28 November 2011

i had an operation on my left ankle a week ago. My rls has kicked n with a vengeance and causes my ankle to stretch and spasm. It is agonisng and yhe only way to relieve it is to get up so not only is my ankle incredibly painful i am exhausted. i'm trying not to sleep during thday as ths will upset my sleep patterns. Any ideas?

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Doylabot said on 04 November 2011

I used to suffer quite badly with this and it would mostly affect my legs from the knees down, but would also happen to my forearms quite badly too. At times this could be almost unbearable as the "tingling" would increase in intensity the longer I remained motionless.

Most of the suggestions people have made are useful and similar to what I tried, also I would quite often run a cold shower over my legs before going to bed and that seemed to help. But now I no longer suffer, I know that these measures just masked the problem, by numbing the area long enough to go to sleep

I understand that everyone is different and what works for some may not work for others but I would like to share what I believe has cured me.

Last year I started on a diet to try to improve my general wellbeing ( rather than lose weight) and i was recommended by a friend to try something called the Elimination Diet. Now I wont go into great detail about this diet as there are many sceptics out there who previously accused me of trying to advertise it. However, it is my firm belief that at least one major change of habit (from the free diet) has cured me of the RLS, that is to stop drinking milk and eating dairy products.

I have read that an imbalance between the amount of calcium and magnesium can contribute to RLS. Calcium to magnesium ratio should be around 2:1 but with milk it is 10:1, so basically if you reduce the amount of calcium it can help you greatly. But it is important to stress that you must do this as part of a balanced diet, so if you are concerned about your calcium levels dropping too low, you can help by eating more green veg, eg: brocolli and kale are the 2 best, along with nuts like almonds.

I really hope that some of you try this and see a benefit.

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Moneypenny2 said on 14 August 2011

i am 60 and have suffered Rl intermittently over the last 20 years which prevents me from sleeping sometimes. Thank you so much to the pregnant lady who suggested the tiptoe exercises. I've not tried any other remedies but this worked a treat.

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ChloeofSuburbia said on 04 June 2011

I have been suffering with the condition on and off for a few years now (I began to notice it when I was in my early Tenage years and had become a Vegetarian...) When I went back to having to eat meat (not through my own beliefs, more because it was affecting my health) the symptoms were very far and few between.

However, when I was in my Mid-Teen years, they Symptoms dragged themselves back up from the depths, and I'd suffered on and off more frequently than I had at 12-14 years old.

Now, as I am waving Goodbye my Teenage years, they symptoms seem to be kicking in with a Vengence, making it nigh on impossible for me to sleep through the night (not useful when you're studying in Higher Education)

I went to give blood about 2 months ago, not for the first time, and was nearly refused due to a very very low Iron count... When I went to my doctors, they said my Iron levels were low, but didn't suggest any options. I have started taking Iron tablets to help support my Iron count, as I cannot eat some of the foods high in Iron... I wondered how other people dealt with the situation, and if they had any hints and tips?

Thankyou :-)

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trotsentry said on 02 March 2011

Take heart all you sufferers - I suffered for over ten years and then without any treatment or medication the dreaded condition just dissapeared I have been completely clear for the past five years -so it seems it can just burn out - What a relief. It is often said that this condition increases with age - in my case it has gone with age. Now aged 80 and still climbing mountains and sleeping soundly every night - So remember there is hope

Allan Collins

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rlshell said on 28 February 2011

i have suffered with rls for approximately 10 years (i am 38yrs old). I literally went years with little or no sleep and found myself jogging on the spot in the kitchen at 3am to try to tire myself out and relieve the symptoms!! the symptoms were now spreading into my arms. I was prescribed codeine which gave some relief but soon wore off. Then i was told about pramipexole by a friend. from day 1 it has completely relieved the symptoms as long as i take it 2 hours before bed. 8 months later now and i have suffered no side effects. it has literally saved my life as the lack of sleep and discomfort at night was seriously depressing me. Tell your doctor that you want to try this drug as in my case i had to do all the research. I think our nhs is excellent and am not knocking anyone but i think there is a general lack of knowledge or awareness re this problem.

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Bunnyhoney said on 19 October 2010

I also used to suffer from RLS intermittently but on occasions it was quite severe causing me to get up at night and try walking around. I had a hysterectomy 10 months ago for heavy bleeding and fibroids, my Hb levels were very low. And hey, surprise surprise I haven't had another episode of RLS since! This makes me suspect that the link to low heamaglobin and iron-deficiency may be important. Have you tried taking iron supplements?

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RLSsufferer said on 30 June 2010

It said under the treatment section to avoid exercising at night just before bed. I have suffered with RLS for nearly 2 years since I was pregnant. It feels like my calf muscles are too active at night need wearing out! I have found that if I stand on my tiptoes and then slowly lower my heels to the floor ( like calf raising exercises)15- 20 times either before bed or after the RL symptoms have started, this wears the legs out sufficiently. When I get back in bed the symptoms have gone and I can sleep! I recommended this to another pregnant ladywho I overheard complaining about the symdrome and she told me a week later it worked a treat for her too. I hope this information helps other people with their RL. The exercises take less than 5 minutes to do. Nothing else has worked for me.

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