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Restless Legs Syndrome – How Do I Get My Legs to Calm Down?

By Stanley Thomas, DO January 29, 2020 Posted in: Wellness

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) also known as Willis Ekbom Syndrome, is characterized by an uncomfortable need to move your legs, primarily at night while trying to sleep.

It is present in 2-3% of the general population, more common in women, and the Caucasian population.

What's Restless Legs Syndrome?

My patients often tell me that it is hard to describe the way their legs feel. I’ve heard the leg sensation described as anything from “creepy crawlies on my legs” to “feeling I have to go run.” Occasionally, the patient’s spouse or bed partner complains about being kicked frequently at night.

A quick way to see if you possibly have RLS, is using the acronym URGE.

Do You Have the URGE?

  1. Do you have the (U)RGE to move your legs, which is associated with unpleasant leg sensations?
  2. Does (R)EST make your symptoms worse?
  3. Does (G)ETTING ACTIVE (walking, kicking, stretching, etc.) improve your symptoms?
  4. Are you symptoms worse in the (E)VENING?

Causes of Restless Legs Syndrome

The first thing I ask my patients when they come into my office with these symptoms, is “How much caffeine do you take in?” Some of the first things we check for that could be causing RLS include:

  • Caffeine (in coffee, tea, energy drinks, chocolate, etc.)
  • Smoking and drinking alcohol can also make RLS symptoms worse
  • Medications, such as antihistamines (i.e. Benadryl), antidepressants, and anti-nausea medications.

I usually ask my patient to cut out ALL caffeine/tobacco use and the medications described above (if safely possible) prior to doing further testing. If they still have persistent symptoms, I consider other causes.

Additional RLS Causes and Treatment

RLS can be a caused by other underlying medical disorders including Iron Deficiency, Renal Failure, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Pregnancy and Spinal Cord Disorders. Thus, it is important to rule some of these out.

Frequently, providers check a ferritin levels, which is an indicator of Iron stores. A quick fix to cure RLS symptoms is iron supplementation, especially if ferritin levels are low.

If my patient still has symptoms, and blood work is normal, I consider medication used specifically to treat RLS. If you have RLS symptoms, try implementing some of the above changes mentioned, it could save you a trip to the doctor's office.

To learn more about other sleep disorders that might be keeping you awake at night, please visit our Sleep Disorder Services.

Stanley Thomas, DO
Stanley Thomas, DO

Stanley Thomas, DO is a Pulmonary Medicine provider at CHI Health.

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