Restless leg syndrome

Restless leg syndrome (RLS), which is also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a condition that causes uncontrollable shaking or moving of the legs. It is often accompanied by an unpleasant crawling, tingling, or aching sensation that is relieved only by movement. This condition often gets worse at night or when people are inactive.[1] Restless leg syndrome is classified as both a movement disorder and a sleep disorder. The condition can interfere with the quality of your sleep, which can make you feel tired and unrested. For many people, these symptoms feel similar to lack of sleep symptoms, affecting your mood, memory and ability to concentrate. If restless legs affect the quality of your life, there are many lifestyle changes, natural remedies, and pharmaceutical options that can help manage and reduce its impact. Since restless leg syndrome is a lifelong condition, it is important to diagnose it properly so that you can accurately and effectively treat and manage it.

Causes and risk factors for restless leg syndrome

The cause of primary RLS is unknown. It can occur at any age, and generally gets worse with age. There are many theories as to what causes restless leg syndrome. One theory is that there are specific hereditary gene variants that can cause restless legs. Another theory is that its cause is related to a dysfunction in the part of the brain that controls movement. This part of the brain uses the brain chemical dopamine to control smooth and seamless movement. A deficiency in dopamine or a disruption in those neural pathways can cause involuntary movements.


However, there are some accompanying factors that are known to put you at risk for restless legs. For example, RLS is often aggravated by other sleep conditions, such as sleep apnea or insomnia. Lack of iron is another common risk factor. Other factors for RLS include hormonal changes and the consumption of certain substances, such as alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, or antidepressants. Women are also more likely to develop restless leg syndrome than men.[2] Clearly, there are many underlying conditions that may predispose you to developing restless leg syndrome. It is difficult to diagnose and often requires a doctor to help ascertain the issue and advise the treatment.

Treatment for restless leg syndrome

Restless leg syndrome treatment differs from person to person. This condition can range in severity from a mild annoyance to an incapacitating issue. Many people find a variety of methods to manage their RLS naturally. Reducing the use of alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and other substances that disrupt sleep or stimulate your nerves can help reduce the intensity of restless legs. Additionally, a combination of exercise and massage has been found to provide relief and help for restless legs. There is also an FDA-approved foot wrap made specifically to treat restless leg syndrome. This wrap puts pressure on your foot and may relieve symptoms. For those with low levels of iron, iron supplements or an IV drip of iron can reduce signs of RLS.[3]  For some, restless legs are a byproduct of a co-existing sleep disorder which when treated can reduce symptoms.


If medication is required, there are anti-seizure drugs, benzodiazepines, and dopaminergic agents that can provide relief.[4] Because many of these medications come with their own set of side effects, it is important to find the right one for you.


Does drinking water help restless legs?

Staying hydrated can help ease restless legs. Dehydration can trigger restless legs, although it is not a known primary cause of it.

What does restless leg syndrome look like?

Restless leg syndrome manifests as an uncomfortable and overwhelming urge to move your legs or limbs. This feeling of discomfort often gets worse at night, or when you are sitting or lying down. For some this condition subsides for a long period of time and only resurface during stressful periods while for others it is a nightly occurrence.

Is restless leg syndrome a common condition?

Yes, restless leg syndrome is a common condition that affects roughly 7 to 10 percent of people in the US.[5] With the right type of restless leg syndrome treatment, it is easy to manage and live with this condition.

Does eating bananas help with restless leg syndrome?

Bananas contain a combination of magnesium and potassium. These minerals are thought to promote the health of your muscles and nervous system. There is however, no evidence that directly links eating bananas to the reduction of symptoms in those with restless leg syndrome.[6]



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