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3 Approaches for Treating Restless Leg Syndrome

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If you can't keep still at night, you could suffer from restless legs syndrome. RLS is a condition that affects millions of people and has no known cure. However, there are three treatment methods that are effective at preventing attacks and reducing unwanted symptoms of the condition. Find out more below.

Do you have trouble keeping still at night? Do you constantly suffer from restless activity as you try to sleep each night? You could have restless leg syndrome, a syndrome that affects up to 10 percent of people in the United States.

According to the National Institute of Health, over 5 million adults have severe RLS, while an additional 5 million more have a moderate care of RLS. It is estimated that even more people may suffer from RLS, but simply do not report it or attribute it to another medical condition, like stress, muscle cramps, or nervousness.

What is RLS?

According to the National Institute of Health, restless leg syndrome is a condition where a patient feels a creeping, throbbing, pulling, or other unpleasant sensation in the legs. Usually, the symptoms are accompanied by an uncontrollable desire to move. Usually, symptoms occur at night when a person is most relaxed. In some cases, moving relieves the symptoms.

The oddest thing about RLS is that symptoms occur during periods of rest. Often, RLS combines with other symptoms like chronic fatigue syndrome or simple insomnia. This can lead to daytime fatigue that can interfere with work, personal relationships, and daily activities. Concentration can be difficult, and memory may also be impaired as a side effect. In rare cases, RLS can lead to feelings of depression.

About 80 percent of individuals with RLS also have periodic limb movement of sleep (PLMS). This is involuntary jerking during sleep about every 15 to 40 seconds. This sometimes causes disrupted sleep or repeated awakenings. Individuals with PLMS do not always have RLS, but most people with RLS have PLMS as well.

Types of RLS

There are two main types of RLS. These two types are known as primary or secondary RLS.

Primary RLS

In Primary RLS, there are no known causes or triggers for the condition. Usually, this means RLS starts before the age of 45 and may be hereditary. Often, patients have this condition for life. Symptoms gradually get worse over time and occur more frequently with time. There may be periods of time without symptoms as well as periods with extreme symptoms. This is the most common form of RLS.

Secondary RLS

In secondary RLS, another condition or disease causes RLS. Usually, secondary RLS starts after age 45 and abruptly starts or stops. Symptoms typically do not worsen.

Triggers for Secondary RLS 
  • Diabetes
  • Iron deficiency
  • Kidney failure
  • Pregnancy
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Medications

Can RLS be Cured?

RLS is more than simply annoying, but it can have reaching effects that last far beyond the simple lack of rest at night. In fact, sleep deprivation is one of the leading causes of serious health disorders, like heart disease, diabetes, and strokes, according to Harvard Medical School. The quality of life for RLS patients also is greatly reduced. All of these health problems make finding a cure beneficial.

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for the disorder. All that current medical research has uncovered is a variety of treatment options that can help control symptoms of the disorder. Three different treatment methods are available. These include lifestyle treatments, conventional medical treatments, and vitamin and herbal treatments. A combination of these three methods can help individuals with RLS live normal lives.

Lifestyle Treatments for RLS

There are several lifestyle treatments that can help ease the symptoms of RLS. You can try these methods as a preventative measure, or try them during an attack to help ease the pain and annoyance of an RLS attack.

Warm bath or massage: A warm bath or massage could help relax muscles and make symptoms feel less painful.

Ice and Heat Packs: Applying cold or hot packs during attacks can help ease the pain. Some patients find that alternating between cool and warm packs is the most helpful. Experiment to find out what works best for you.

Relaxation: Stress may lead to an increase in RLS symptoms, according to experts. Relaxing with intention, using a method like Yoga or Tai Chi may help restore balance to the body and avoid painful RLS attacks.

Sleeping Routine: Setting a daily sleep routine can help ease symptoms and pain. Try creating a routine with a set bedtime and nightly activities that promote sleep, like drinking relaxing tea or reading a calming book.

Exercise: Moderate exercise is the perfect help for RLS patients. Moderate intensity exercise three or four times a well can help ease RLS symptoms and make attacks less frequent. Over-exercising, however, can often make RLS symptoms worse.

Avoid Caffeine: Caffeine is a trigger for RLS symptoms. Cutting back on caffeine consumption or eliminating it altogether could help reduce RLS severity. It can take up to 2 months to see any benefits of cutting back on caffeine, so try it for at least that long before going back to caffeine.

Avoid Alcohol: In some cases, reducing the amount of alcohol consumed or eliminating it altogether could benefit RLS.

Avoid Tobacco: Just like alcohol, tobacco can make RLS symptoms worse for some people. Try giving it up or reducing the amount you consume for at least 2 months to see if any benefit occurs.

Medical Treatments for RLS

These RLS medications are used to help control symptoms and make attacks less frequent.

Dopamine Agonists

A dopamine deficiency is one main cause of RLS. These are most often the first medicines used to treat RLS. Pramipexole), Rotigotine, and Ropinirole are all used to act like dopamine in the brain. Common side effects are dizziness, sleepiness in the day, and nausea.

Dopaminergic Agents

In some cases, a combination drug of levodopa and carbidopa is used to treat RLS. This is done to improve the level of dopamine in the brain, not just act like it. -- increase the level of dopamine in the brain and may improve leg sensations in RLS. Daily use has led to symptoms worsening in some patients. Common side effects include hallucinations, vomiting, nausea, and involuntary movements.


Benzodiazepines are simple sedatives. These are not supposed to relieve symptoms, but rather help patients sleep through the night. Side effects include depression, memory impairment, vertigo, and antisocial behavior.


In rare cases, opiates are used to treat RLS. Opiates are highly addictive, which is why they are rarely used to treat RLS. A doctor may prescribe opiates if other medications are not working for RLS. Side effects include drowsiness, nausea, constipation, depression, and nervous system disorders.


These drugs are used to relieve chronic pain, nerve pain, and common RLS symptoms. Common side effects include weight gain, drowsiness, nausea, tremors, and dizziness.

Alpha2 Agonists

These drugs stimulate the alpha2 receptors in the brain. This activates the nerve cells that help control involuntary movements. Common side effects include hypertension, transient hyperglycemia, vomiting, gastric reflux, and decreased respiratory rate.

Herbal Treatments for RLS

If you don’t want to go the medical route, or if you want to try supplementing to control RLS symptoms in addition to conventional medical treatments, there are several vitamins and herbs that are scientifically proven to help control RLS symptoms. Consult with a medical health professional before starting any supplement routine in combination with other medications. Some herbs may interfere with other medications that you are currently taking. If you are pregnant or nursing, ask your doctor to confirm which supplements are safe to take for RLS that will not harm the baby.


A 2002 study from Spain looked at GABA as a possible treatment for RLS. For six weeks, patients took GABA or a placebo. After the study was over, patients showed reduced RLS symptoms, as well as less-frequent leg movements.

Folate or Folic Acid

Pregnancy is a common secondary cause of RLS. Many pregnant women suffer from RLS, possibly due to vitamin deficiencies caused by the developing baby. A 2001 study from the University of California San Francisco looked at the benefits of supplementation with folate (also known as folic acid) in a woman’s third trimester. Women who were lowest in folate levels were more likely to have RLS symptoms in the third trimester.

Vitamin B12

A 2000 study published in the New England Medical Journal looked at the role of vitamin B12 in elderly patients with shaky-leg syndrome. After supplementing with vitamin B12, elderly patients with shaky-leg syndrome showed reduced symptoms of the syndrome and were able to control leg movements.


Iron deficiencies are a known possible cause of RLS symptoms. Elderly individuals with low iron levels are more likely to suffer from RLS than individuals with normal iron levels. In a 1994 study from Dublin, RLS patients who supplemented with iron showed a significant reduction in RLS symptoms.

Magnesium and Calcium

In a 1998 study conducted by Albert-Ludwigs-University, patients with RLS were given magnesium supplements for 4-6 weeks. At the end of the study, participants showed less RLS symptoms and moved less in their sleep. Calcium is essential for proper magnesium absorption. Taking magnesium and calcium together can boost the effectiveness of magnesium supplements.

A Three-Step Approach to RLS

If you suffer from RLS, you probably want to investigate any possible options to help control the annoying, painful, and potentially serious condition. RLS can have many side effects that reach far beyond simple leg pain. Controlling this condition requires a careful approach from multiple angles.

For best results, using a combination of lifestyle changes, traditional medicines, and herbal supplements will help restore normal functioning to the legs so you can get the rest that you need to stay healthy. If you do not want to take conventional treatments, there are plenty of herbal and vitamin supplements that are effective at reducing symptoms without side effects. Try these methods before moving on to conventional treatments so you can be symptom-free without painful and damaging side effects.





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