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Mental Disorders

Restless Legs Syndrome

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

What is Restless Legs Syndrome?

Symptoms include:

  • an urge to move the legs during rest or inactivity due to uncomfortable or unpleasant sensations in the legs (a "pins and needles" type of feeling or crawling, tingling, burning or itching feelings). This is typically worse in the evening or at night than during the day.
  • the symptoms happen at least 3 times a week for at least 3 months.
  • these issues cause stress in the person's life or trouble at work, in relationships with others, or other daily activities.
  • the issues are not caused by another medical or mental health disorder and are not the result of a behavioral condition (such as being in an uncomfortable position or having a habit of tapping your foot).
  • the issues are not caused by a substance (medication or drug of abuse).

How common is Restless Legs Syndrome?

This condition occurs in 2-7% of people and is 1.5-2 times more common in females. People in their 20s and 30s often discover they have this condition, but many say that they had the problems when they were a child or teen.

What are the risk factors for Restless Legs Syndrome?

Risk factors include being female, being older, and having family members that have had the condition.

What other disorders or conditions often occur with Restless Legs Syndrome?

Depression, anxiety disorders, and ADHD are common with this condition. It also happens with people that have heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and many other medical conditions.

How is Restless Legs Syndrome treated?

If a person has this condition without any other medical conditions that may be causing it, then treatments include lifestyle changes or medication.

Things that can be tried at home include soaking in warm water, massaging the legs, or using hot or cold packs on the legs. Other options include relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga, getting enough exercise, and avoiding caffeine which can make the problem worse. It is also important to set good sleep habits (going to bed and getting up at the same time, getting enough sleep, etc.)

Medications may include iron supplements as sometimes an iron deficiency can cause this condition. Most of the medications used are for other problems, but may help with these symptoms as well. However, any medication can have side effects (new symptoms that happen because of the medicine), so those issues have to be thought through carefully.