- Restless legs syndrome is a common condition where you have an urge to move your legs to relieve unpleasant sensations.
- Symptoms of restless legs syndrome are usually worst when you’re trying to fall asleep and can prevent you from getting enough sleep.
- Restless legs syndrome can be caused by many different things, such as low iron, too much caffeine or certain health conditions, but sometimes no cause is found.
- It’s common in late pregnancy and usually goes away after the baby is born.
What is restless legs syndrome?
Restless legs syndrome is a common condition where you have an urge to move your legs to relieve unpleasant sensations.
Up to 1 in 20 people will have restless legs syndrome at some time in their life. It can start at any age, but the risk increases as you get older. Your risk is higher if it runs in your family.
What does it feel like?
If you have restless legs syndrome, you might have:
- unpleasant sensations in your legs, such as burning, tingling, aching, itching or a feeling of pins and needles, electric currents or insects crawling under your skin
- an urge to move your legs because of these sensations
- uncontrolled jerking movements of your legs at night
- similar sensations in your arms
Symptoms are worse in the evening and at night, especially when you’re trying to fall asleep. They often start when you’re resting, lying down or sitting for a long time.
This can make it hard for you to fall asleep. It can also wake you up during the night. You might not get enough sleep, which can make you feel irritable or tired during the day.
Moving around in bed, stretching or rubbing your legs or getting up and walking around can relieve your symptoms temporarily.
What causes restless legs syndrome?
Restless legs syndrome can be caused by many different things, including:
- not having enough iron in your diet
- having too much caffeine
- some health conditions, such as chronic kidney disease, iron deficiency anaemia, diabetes, arthritis and Parkinson’s disease
- some medicines, such as antihistamines and antidepressants
- nerve damage in your legs
Sometimes no cause is found.
How is restless legs syndrome diagnosed?
If you experience these symptoms, see your doctor to confirm the diagnosis. There is no test for restless legs syndrome, but you may need a blood test to rule out other reasons for your symptoms.
Your doctor may refer you to a specialist neurologist to try to find the cause and recommend a treatment.
How is restless legs syndrome treated?
If your symptoms are caused by another condition, such as diabetes or anaemia, the first step is to treat that condition.
Your doctor might recommend certain vitamin or mineral supplements if you have low levels in your blood.
If your doctor can’t find a cause, there are things you can try to ease the symptoms and improve your sleep:
- hot baths, heat packs, ice packs and leg massages
- reducing caffeine and alcohol intake
- if you smoke, cutting back or quitting
- regular exercise
- having healthy sleep habits
For many people, this is all that’s needed. If your symptoms still affect your sleep or quality of life, there are medicines that can help. You can talk to your doctor about this. Sometimes a medicine will stop working after you’ve been taking it for a while and you might need to switch to a different medicine.
Will it go away?
If there’s no underlying cause that can be treated, restless legs syndrome usually gets worse as you get older. Sometimes it goes away and comes back.
Restless legs syndrome and pregnancy
If you are pregnant, you are more likely to experience restless legs syndrome, especially during your third trimester. Doctors don’t know what causes this, but it can be related to low iron levels, and it usually goes away after the baby is born.
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Last reviewed: June 2022