Imagine after a long day on your feet, you simply can’t relax. Instead, you feel a heavy aching, tingling, or crawling feeling in your legs as if you were still moving. Is this restlessness, or Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)?
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What Is Restless Leg Syndrome?
Restless leg syndrome is also known as Willis-Ekbom disease. Nearly 10 percent of the American population suffers from it. Symptoms are more common in the evening and nighttime hours. They are usually felt when the person is still or laying down. This can create sleep disturbances or prevent sleep altogether.
The feelings of RLS range in severity. If left untreated, though, they typically become more frequent and the episodes can last longer – especially as we age.
The symptoms of RLS include:
- Creeping or pulling sensations
- Pins and needles feeling, electric sensation
- Heavy ache in the legs
- Urge to move legs
- Crawling sensation
- Throbbing or itching sensation
Believe it or not, RLS is a neurological sensory disorder since it begins in the brain, but it affects the body. Medical experts also classify it as a movement disorder since patients are forced to shift positions or walk around to end the sensation.
It is also considered a sleep disorder. That’s because it is often associated with nighttime leg twitching called periodic limb movements.
Who Gets Restless Leg Syndrome?
RLS can occur in anyone, even children. It is, however, more common in women and those middle-aged and older. While there is no clearly known cause for RLS, genetic predisposition may be a factor.
Why Do People Develop Restless Leg Syndrome?
There are several reasons RLS can occur or worsen. This includes specific medications like anti-nausea drugs, antipsychotics, and antihistamines (like Benadryl). These block the brain’s dopamine receptors, which trigger the symptoms. Other risk factors include iron deficiency, Parkinson’s disease, kidney failure, diabetes, or peripheral neuropathy. Sitting or standing for long periods of time can also trigger RLS.
Is There Relief for Restless Leg Syndrome?
There is no medical test to determine if you have RLS. But it’s important to discuss your symptoms and concerns with your doctor in order to receive the right treatment. There are also things you may do at home to help the symptoms. These include:
- Walking or moving around
- Hot and cold compresses
- Warm baths
- Sleep hygiene
- Daily exercise
- Eliminate alcohol and caffeine
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
The UPMC Adult Congenital Heart Disease (ACHD) Center is a joint program between UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute. We provide long-term care for adolescents, young adults, maternal patients, and adults with congenital heart disease. Our goal is to provide complete care from your childhood all the way through your life. Our team of experts has a wide knowledge of heart conditions.