Restless legs syndrome is an irresistible urge to move the legs that occurs predominantly in the evening. It can also worsen during periods of inactivity, like on long car rides. When the legs are moved, the accompanying uncomfortable sensation is temporarily relieved. RLS is a problem because it prevents people from falling asleep, and the unpleasant sensation can cause a great deal of distress.

Who Gets Restless Legs Syndrome?

Anyone can have it at any age, but prevalence is twice as high in women as in men. It is estimated to occur in up to 1 in 10 adults in the United States. In some people it is inherited, and in some it occurs spontaneously. Precipitating factors can include iron deficiency, certain medications, pregnancy, kidney disease, and prolonged immobility. RLS is believed to be caused by a problem with the neurotransmitter dopamine in the central nervous system, brain iron deficiency, and/or genetics.

How Is RLS Treated?

In some patients, correcting iron levels may help with RLS. Behavioral methods like warm baths and relaxation methods may also be effective. Some patients require a medication. Medications that may be helpful include dopamine agonists (such as ropinirole or pramipexole) or calcium channel ligands (such as gabapentin and derivatives). Ask your doctor about what option is right for you.