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- Restless legs syndrome caused by an underlying health condition can often be cured by treating that condition. For example, iron deficiency anaemia can be treated by taking iron supplements. If it's associated with pregnancy, it usually disappears on its own within 4 weeks of the birth.
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The condition is typically treated with lifestyle changes and medication.
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) causes people to experience uncomfortable or unpleasant sensations in their legs while at rest.
These sensations are often described as crawling, burning, or pulling, among other descriptions.
The unpleasant feelings force people to move or rub their legs to relieve their symptoms, which are generally worse at night.
Left untreated, RLS can reduce a person's quality and amount of sleep — ultimately affecting their ability to concentrate, performance in daily activities, and learning capabilities.
Some people with RLS further develop mood swings,depression, or other health problems.
There's no cure for RLS. But if you have the disorder, lifestyle changes and medication can help improve your quality of life.
The goals of RLS treatment are to prevent or relieve symptoms, improve sleep, and correct underlying conditions or habits that trigger or worsen RLS symptoms.
Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies
If you have mild RLS, lifestyle changes may be the only treatment you need.
You can try to prevent RLS symptoms by:
- Avoiding (or limiting your intake of) caffeine, tobacco, andnicotine, which are common triggers of RLS symptoms
- Making sure you're getting enough iron in your diet or by taking supplements (some studies have linked iron deficiency to RLS)
- Reviewing your medications with your doctor and possibly changing medications that may be triggering RLS
- Exercising regularly
- Engaging your mind with distracting activities (such as talking to people, needlework, or video games) when you have to remain seated
Other activities can help alleviate RLS symptoms, including:
- Taking a hot or cold bath
- Using heat or ice packs
- Walking or stretching
- Massaging your legs
- Doing mentally challenging tasks
To help you fall and stay asleep, it's also important to adopt good sleep habits, including:
- Keeping your sleeping area cool, quiet, and dark
- Engaging in a mentally challenging or distracting activity before bed, such as a crossword puzzle
- Removing devices from your sleeping area that can disrupt sleep, such as TVs, computers, and phones
- Sticking to a sleep routine (going to bed and waking up at the same time every day)
- Using breathing exercises or other techniques to relax at night
Medications for RLS
If you have moderate to severe RLS, lifestyle changes may not be enough to resolve your symptoms. You may also need to take medication.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved three drugs to treat moderate to severe RLS:
- Horizant (gabapentinenacarbil), an antiseizure and pain-relieving medication
- Mirapex (pramipexole), which encourages the activity ofdopamine, a chemical that helps the brain control muscle movement
- Requip (ropinirolehydrochloride), a drug that's similar in effect to Mirapex and is commonly used to treat Parkinson's disease
- Neupro (rotigotine), which is administered by a patch
As with any drug, these medications can have side effects — most commonly sedation, nausea, and dizziness, with the potential to cause you to fall asleep quickly and suddenly.
Mirapex and Requip may also cause obsessive or compulsive behaviors.
As an alternative or in addition to the above drugs, your doctor may prescribe other medication, including:
- Other dopamine-related medication, such as levodopa
- Other antiseizure medication, such as carbamazepine (Tegretol, Carbatrol, Equetro) or valproate
- Opioids, such ascodeine, propoxyphene, oroxycodone
- Benzodiazepines(sedatives), such asAmbien(zolpidem),Lunesta(eszopiclone), or Sonata (zaleplon)
It never fails — just as you crawl into bed, your restless legs start acting up again. Symptoms — which include pain and tingly, creepy-crawly sensations — usually strike at night or when you’re relaxing, so sleep problems are one of the chief complaints in people with restless legs syndrome, or RLS.
Although RLS is a neurological problem, certain environmental and external factors have been known to exacerbate symptoms. Avoiding these common restless legs triggers may help calm your jittery limbs so you can get the rest you need.
Identifying Restless Legs Triggers
Medications may be most effective for severe RLS, but identifying and avoiding things that aggravate your symptoms can also help, especially in mild or moderate cases. Here are some common restless legs triggers, plus tips to help you overcome them and get some sleep:
- Stress and anxiety. Rachel Salas, MD, an assistant professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, says that stress and anxiety are big restless legs triggers. Stress reduction techniques like deep breathing or yoga may help.
- Nicotine. If you need another reason to stop smoking, calming your restless legs is a good one. Talk with your doctor if you think you need help quitting.
- Alcohol. Many people with RLS report that drinking can lead to more restless legs symptoms. Although alcohol can help people fall asleep quickly, it interferes with the quality of sleep and can make sleep apnea worse , says Alon Avidan, MD, MPH, an associate professor of neurology and director of the Sleep Disorders Clinic at UCLA. Try omitting alcohol to see whether your restless legs improve and whether you feel more rested in the morning.
- Vigorous exercise. Getting moderate exercise during the day can help ease restlessness at night. But vigorous exercise, especially close to bedtime, can have the opposite effect in some people.
- Medications. A number of medications can make RLS worse. In particular, anti-nausea drugs and sedating antihistamines (like Benadryl) block the brain’s dopamine receptors, causing restless legs symptoms. Antidepressants that increase serotonin and antipsychotic medications can also aggravate the condition. Let your doctor know if your restless legs symptoms worsen after you take a new medication. A change in dosage or to a different medication may do the trick.
- Caffeine. Because caffeine is a stimulant, it can interfere with sleep if it’s consumed too close to bedtime. It’s long been on the list of restless legs triggers, but Dr. Salas says recent research shows it may not be that big of a problem. In fact, she says, it may be beneficial in some people. Try cutting out coffee, tea, colas, sports drinks, and even chocolate to see if your symptoms improve or worsen.
Other Restless Legs Triggers
Other health conditions can also cause restless legs. This is what’s called secondary restless legs syndrome:
- Pregnancy. According to Dr. Avidan, about 20 percent of pregnant women report restless legs symptoms. This is more likely in the last three months of pregnancy, and iron deficiency is usually the culprit. If symptoms crop up when you’re expecting, your doctor will probably test the level of iron in your blood and prescribe iron supplements if it’s too low. The good news is that your restless legs symptoms will probably go away soon after you have your baby.
- Medical conditions. Restless legs symptoms are also seen in some people with kidney failure and diabetes. Treating these conditions will often calm the restless legs.
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The Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation suggests using a sleep diary to pinpoint your personal triggers and gauge the severity of your symptoms. Always tell your doctor if your symptoms get noticeably worse.
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