Restless Leg Syndrome

A neurological condition in which the legs are afflicted with a throbbing, pulling, or creeping sensation and an overwhelming urge to move. These symptoms tend to occur at night, during rest or relaxation. Restless leg syndrome (RLS) can disrupt sleep and interfere with people’s jobs, relationships, and daily activities.

No one knows exactly what causes RLS. It may be associated with abnormalities in the basal ganglia circuitry of the brain that uses the neurotransmitter (nerve messenger) dopamine, which is required for smooth and purposeful body movement. Possible risk factors for RLS include kidney failure, diabetes, and peripheral neuropathy, and treating these underlying conditions may help ease RLS symptoms. Antinausea drugs, antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants that increase levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, and sedating antihistamines all can aggravate symptoms of RLS.

A number of measures can help control RLS symptoms, including cutting back on caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco, keeping a regular sleep schedule, getting regular exercise, massaging the legs, and taking hot baths. The drug treatment of choice for RLS is dopaminergic agents such as levodopa, ropinirole, pramipexole and rotigotine. Other helpful medications include benzodiazepines such as clonazepam and diazepam, opioids such as codeine and propoxyphene, and anticonvulsants such as gabapentin and pregabalin. A device called the Relaxis pad has been approved for treating RLS. Applied to the site of discomfort, it vibrates for 30 minutes while the person is in bed and then automatically shuts off.

Want to learn more about restless legs syndrome? Read “Lupus and Restless Legs.”

Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.

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