Our guide to Restless Legs Syndrome

If you’ve ever found your sleep rudely interrupted by an unpleasant crawling sensation in your legs and an insatiable urge to move them, you may have been experiencing Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). While the symptoms themselves are usually not harmless, they can deprive you of sleep, impacting on your mood and leaving you feeling drained. It is thought that this uncomfortable condition affects 10% of the population, but there are ways it can be alleviated. Read on to find out more.

Restless Legs Syndrome symptoms

Restless Legs Syndrome can be confused with Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD), where the legs cramp, twitch or jerk during sleep. Although PLMD affects up to 80% of RLS sufferers, not all will experience this condition – the crucial difference is that PLMD occurs during sleep, whereas RLS occurs while awake. The following symptoms were proposed by the International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group as a set of diagnostic criteria for the condition.

  • A need to move the legs, accompanied by unpleasant sensations in the legs, which may feel like fizzing, crawling insects, or even burning. This may also affect the arms or other body parts.
  • These symptoms are either only present or worsened during periods of inactivity.
  • The crawling sensations and desire to move can be partially or totally relieved by moving, walking or stretching.
  • These symptoms are worse in the evening or at night.
  • The symptoms cannot be accounted for by the presence of other conditions such as leg cramps, swelling or arthritis.

What triggers Restless Legs Syndrome?

Although Restless Legs Syndrome is thought to have a genetic link, the exact cause is not known, though it can be linked to conditions such as iron deficiency and poor kidney function. A common time for the condition to pop up is during pregnancy, and it is thought that between 10-25% of pregnant women experience it, with its peak in their third trimester. While women can experience RLS during the menopause, it is not caused by the menopause. One study did find, however, that women who had experienced RLS during pregnancy were more likely to develop it around the time of the menopause too.

Are there cures for Restless Legs Syndrome?

If your RLS symptoms are the result of another condition such as diabetes or peripheral neuropathy, then the symptoms may often resolve with the treatment of the underlying disorder. While there is no fixed cure for Restless Legs Syndrome, certain measures can help alleviate it.

Restless Legs Syndrome and iron deficiency

RLS can be triggered by an iron deficiency, and if this is the case, slight dietary adjustments may help to alleviate the restlessness. A simple blood test from your GP will establish whether or not you have iron deficiency, and they can recommend whether iron supplements are appropriate. Eating plenty of nutritious, iron-rich food is also beneficial, try eggs, spinach, broccoli, lentils, dried fruit, red meat and liver. If your iron levels are already low, be wary of drinking too much tea, particularly at meal times, as this can inhibit your body’s iron absorption.

Magnesium for Restless Legs Syndrome

Though further research is needed, certain early studies have shown that, for those with insomnia caused by RLS, magnesium may be a helpful treatment. From bath salts to magnesium-rich foods, there are a number of ways that we can increase the benefit we receive from this helpful mineral.

Exercise and Restless Legs Syndrome

Research has shown that stretching can have a real impact on the severity of RLS. These simple stretching exercises by Michael Garry are a great place to start. While intense exercise may make symptoms worse, some find that a gentle evening walk is also helpful.

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