Restless Leg Syndrome (Symptoms, Causes, Treatment Medications, Home Remedies)

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

A woman in bed with restless leg syndrome (RLS).
Source: Photodisc/Getty Images

Restless leg syndrome definition and facts

  • Restless leg syndrome is a condition marked by a strong urge to mover the legs along with symptoms of unpleasant sensations in the legs while resting and sleeping, for example, tingling, burning, and aching, while resting. The condition also causes leg pain and cramps.
  • Symptoms of restless leg syndrome are aching and an urge to move the lower extremities
  • It is suggested the main cause of restless leg syndrome is a problem using iron or the lack of iron in the brain. Many conditions have been associated with restless leg syndrome because of the iron problem, for example, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, pregnancy, kidney failure, Parkinson's disease, and iron deficiency.
  • Restless leg syndrome tends to run in families.
  • Restless leg syndrome frequency leads to insomnia.
  • Treatment and home remedies for restless leg syndrome include medications and home remedies to manage symptoms and leg pain, increase the amount and quality of sleep, and treat underlying medical conditions.
  • Home remedies for restless leg syndrome include
  • Restless leg syndrome is generally not considered curable, but treatments can substantially lessen or eradicate symptoms.
  • Other conditions that my mimic restless leg syndrome include poor circulation to the lower extremities, fibromyalgia, and neuropathy.

What is restless leg syndrome (RLS)?

Restless leg syndrome (RLS, restless legs syndrome) is a common cause of painful legs. The leg pain of restless leg syndrome typically eases with motion of the legs and becomes more noticeable at rest. Restless leg syndrome also features worsening of symptoms and leg pain during the early evening or later at night.

Restless leg syndrome is often abbreviated RLS; it has also been termed shaking leg syndrome. Nighttime involuntary jerking of the legs during sleep are also known as periodic leg/limb movement disorder.

How Do I Know If I Have Restless Leg Syndrome?

The diagnosis of restless leg syndrome is established on four criteria established by The National Institutes of Health.

  1. A strong urge to move your legs. This urge often, but not always, occurs with unpleasant feelings in your legs. When the disorder is severe, you also may have the urge to move your arms.
  2. A strong urge to move the legs along with other RLS symptoms that begin or worsen when inactive, or in the evening and at night.
An older woman rubbing her aching legs due to restless leg syndrome.
Source: Science Photo Library/Getty Images

What are the common signs and symptoms of restless leg syndrome?

Many different symptoms are described by people with restless leg syndrome, for example:

  • leg pain,
  • cramps,
  • tingling,
  • itchy,
  • burning, and
  • aching.

The characteristic nighttime worsening of symptoms in persons with restless legs syndrome frequency leads to insomnia. Because of lack of sleep, children and some adults may be very drowsy, irritable, and aggressive during daytime hours.

Restless leg syndrome usually begins slowly. Over time, the legs become more affected. Less frequently, restless leg syndrome can affect the arms.

Is restless leg syndrome common during pregnancy?

Restless leg syndrome is relatively common during pregnancy, especially in the second half of pregnancy. While most medications used to treat restless leg syndrome have not been adequately studied in pregnant women, the non-medication treatments and techniques described above can be very helpful. Furthermore, avoiding caffeine, warm compresses, massage, and regular exercising according to the doctors' suggestions can be helpful.

An illustration portraying leg pain caused by restless leg syndrome (RLS).
Source: Science Photo Library/Getty Images

What causes restless leg syndrome?

The cause of restless leg syndrome is unknown in most people. However, restless leg syndrome has been associated with

Some drugs and medications have been associated with restless leg syndrome including:

Occasionally, restless leg syndrome run in families. Recent studies have shown that restless leg syndrome appears to become more common as a person ages. Also, poor venous circulation of the legs (such as with varicose veins) can cause restless leg syndrome.

A pregnant woman suffers from restless leg syndrom in bed.
Source: Getty Images

How do you know if you have restless leg syndrome?

The National Institutes of Health says that four criteria must be met for the diagnosis of RLS in a person (adult or child):

  • A strong urge to move your legs. This urge often, but not always, occurs with unpleasant feelings in your legs. When the disorder is severe, you also may have the urge to move your arms.
  • Symptoms that start or get worse when you're inactive. The urge to move increases when you're sitting still or lying down and resting.
  • Relief from moving. Movement, especially walking, helps relieve the unpleasant feelings.
  • Symptoms that start or get worse in the evening or at night.

What is the treatment for restless leg syndrome? Is there a cure?

Treatment of restless leg syndrome is first directed toward any underlying illness, if known. For example:

  • Blood testing to reveal underlying iron deficiency anemia may reveal the underlying cause.
  • If varicose veins are thought to be the cause, then surgery to repair the circulation may be considered.
  • Reduction or elimination of caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol from a person's diet can be very helpful.
  • Stopping smoking can significantly diminish or prevent symptoms.
  • Getting better sleep and exercise can help some persons affected by restless legs.
  • Pregnant women who do not sleep well at night and other people with sleep disorders may develop RLS.

There is no cure for restless leg syndrome; however, the condition usually responds well to home remedies and medications. The outlook is excellent for people with restless leg syndrome as long as it does not weaken or damage the function of the legs.

An assortment of medication pills.
Source: iStock

What medications treat restless leg syndrome and its symptoms?

Medications used to treat restless leg syndrome include:

A woman taking a bath to ease her restless leg syndrome pain.
Source: Bigstock

6 natural home remedies for restless leg syndrome symptoms

Other treatments that have been helpful for some people with restless leg syndrome include:

  1. Warm/cold baths
  2. Electric nerve stimulation
  3. Oral magnesium
  4. Acupuncture
  5. Natural treatments such as quinine water at bedtime (tonic water)
  6. Anxiety may trigger or increase RLS symptoms according to some researchers.  Some people have experienced a decrease in anxiety by using over-the-counter (OTC) products and natural home remedies and naturopathic treatments for anxiety, for example, lavender soap fumes or acupuncture. These natural treatments may reduce symptoms of RLS. 

Some of these natural remedies to reduce symptom of restless leg syndrome and may cause side effects. Discuss any problems or side effects you have after using home remedies or alternative treatments for restless leg syndrome with your doctor.

Can other conditions mimic restless leg syndrome?

There are many conditions which can mimic restless leg syndrome including:

In children, restless leg syndrome is often misdiagnosed as "growing pains."

Medically Reviewed on 2/13/2018
References
REFERENCE: NIH. Restless Legs Syndrome.
<https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/restless-legs-syndrome>
CONTINUE SCROLLING FOR RELATED SLIDESHOW