Restless Legs Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

If you have an irresistible urge to move your legs, you may have restless legs syndrome (RLS). RLS is a condition that causes an uncomfortable sensation in the legs. The feeling usually goes away temporarily when you move around.

Unfortunately, RLS can disrupt sleep, which can interfere with daily activities. Thankfully, there are treatments available that can help relieve symptoms. Keep reading for more information about restless legs syndrome and how to get relief!

What is restless legs syndrome?

People with restless legs syndrome (RLS) feel uncomfortable sensations in their legs and an urge to move them that they cannot resist. RLS symptoms usually happen in the late afternoon or evening and can worsen at night when a person is resting quietly in bed.

Symptoms might also arise when a person is inactive for long periods, such as during a flight or watching a movie. And since they can worsen at night, it may become hard to fall asleep fast or go back to sleep after waking up.

The discomfort usually fades when you move your legs or walk around, but it often comes back as soon as you stop.

RLS is classified as both sleep and movement disorder since the symptoms are usually worse at night and include an irresistible urge to move one’s legs.

Best characterized as a neurological condition whose symptoms arise from the brain itself.

Symptoms of restless legs syndrome?

The sensation in their legs is often described as tingling, burning, itching, or throbbing. This can affect both sides of the body occasionally but usually affects just one side. The arms are less commonly affected and rarely occur in the chest or head.

Nighttime leg twitching

RLS is often connected with periodic limb movement of sleep, in which your legs twitch and kick involuntarily during the night.

uncomfortable sensations in their lower limbs

People with RLS constantly need to move because of unusual, uncomfortable sensations in their legs that people without the disorder don’t experience.

Sleep disruption

The discomfort you’re feeling often causes people difficulty falling and staying asleep.

Constantly move their legs and toss while sitting

The discomfort from RLS can be relieved by moving the legs (or other affected body parts), so people with RLS often keep their legs in motion to reduce or avoid the sensations.

turn in bed

The discomfort may be so severe that you must leave your bed and stretch your limbs to find relief.

When to see a doctor

Many people never go to the doctor for help with Restless Leg Syndrome because they think doctors won’t take them seriously. But RLS can make it hard to sleep and cause fatigue during the day, lowering your quality of life. If you believe you may have RLS, speak with a healthcare provider.

What causes restless legs syndrome?

The root cause of RLS is still unknown, but researchers speculate it might be due to unevenness of the dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine sends messages that control muscle movement.

hereditary disease

If your RLS begins before age 40, it’s more likely to be passed down in your family. Also, researchers have pinpointed specific locations on chromosomes where the genes for RLS may exist.


Some women experience RLS, or restless leg syndrome, for the first time when pregnant. This is more common during the last months of pregnancy but usually goes away after the toddler is born.

alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine

Although we cannot say if alcohol use worsens RLS, research suggests it does. Additionally, restless and twitching legs are symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Therefore, even though the relationship between alcohol and RLS is unknown, drinking can either worsen or create similar symptoms to those experienced with RLS.

Worse RLS symptoms can be caused by nicotine and caffeine, so limiting or avoiding them is best. This also includes foods that contain caffeine, like chocolate.

Risk factors

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) can develop during any stage of life, even during childhood. The condition becomes more prevalent with age and is more common in females than males.

In most cases, RLS isn’t related to a severe underlying medical problem. Although, there are times when it co-occurs with other conditions, such as:

Parkinson’s disease

People with Parkinson’s disease who take dopaminergic agonist medications have an increased risk of developing RLS.

Spinal cord conditions

Lesions or damage to the spinal cord can result in RLS, as well as having a history of anesthesia near the spinal cord area, such as a spinal block.

Peripheral neuropathy

Nerve damage in the extremities is frequently caused by chronic conditions such as diabetes or alcoholism.

Kidney failure

If you have kidney failure, there is also a higher chance that you will develop iron deficiency and anemia. With failing kidneys, the stored iron in your blood can deplete, worsening RLS or causing it to expand.

How is restless legs syndrome treated?


If you have low or below-normal levels of ferritin and transferrin in your blood, doctors will usually recommend trying iron supplements first. These are available over the counter, but keep in mind that they may lead to an upset stomach. If this is a problem, try taking a different supplement. Since iron isn’t easily absorbed into the body through the gut, it can also cause constipation; however, this can be treated with stool softeners like polyethylene glycol.

Use Weighted Blankets

If you can’t seem to stop tossing and turning at night, it’s likely because you’re stressed. Weighted blankets evenly distribute weight over your body, providing deep touch pressure (DTP) or deep pressure stimulation. This promotes the relaxation of your nervous system and encourages restorative sleep. Additionally, weighted blankets have been designed to improve well-being and guide away restlessness caused by stress.

Dopaminergic agents

FDA-approved drugs that increase dopamine activity are primarily used to treat Parkinson’s disease, but they have also been found helpful in reducing symptoms of RLS when taken at night. These drugs (ropinirole, pramipexole, and rotigotine) are usually well tolerated by patients but may cause short-term side effects like nausea or dizziness. Another drug combination–levodopa plus carbidopa–may be effective when used intermittently instead of daily.


A moderate workout routine earlier in the day is beneficial, but any strenuous activity should be avoided a few hours before sleep.

Anti-seizure medications

Anti-seizure medications work by slowing or blocking pain signals from nerves in the legs. This makes them especially good at treating neuropathy-related RLS, as it directly tackles the root of the problem. Gabapentin enacarbil is currently FDA-approved for this purpose, but clinical studies have shown that other drugs in this class are also effective.