Medical Q&As

Restless legs syndrome - remedies?

I have suffered from “restless legs” for many years. Could you please give me any advice on what I should do to gain relief?

A Swedish neurologist named Karl Ekbom originally described restless legs syndrome in the 1940s. It is a relatively common complaint and can affect up to 10% of the adult population. The diagnosis is based on the presence of four symptoms: (1) a desire to move the limbs associated with sensory symptoms such as numbness and tingling, (2) the symptoms are triggered by rest and relieved by activity, (3) general inability to stay easy and needing to move, (4) the symptoms are worse at night. Symptoms can progress over time and some affected people find the condition to be quite disabling. Most cases arise for no known reason. It can be familial in up to 75% of cases. Sometimes restless legs syndrome happens as a result of other medical conditions such as iron deficiency and peripheral neuropathy. The latter condition is a chronic disorder of the nerves in the legs. People with restless legs who also happen to have varicose veins may benefit from having their veins treated. Various drugs can also cause the condition including beta-blockers, anticonvulsants and certain antidepressants. Alcohol, caffeine and smoking can also be contributory factors. It is important that the various factors I have just listed be excluded prior to initiating treatment because eliminating the cause may deal with the problem without having to take any further action. Some people benefit from hot or cold footbaths whereas rubbing the feet and legs may help others. More severely affected people may need prescription drugs in order to relieve their symptoms. The most effective of these drugs include dopamine agonists (also used in Parkinson’s disease), gabapentin, clonazepam and clonidine. If you wish to learn more about this condition you might like to contact the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation, which can be accessed through their website at: http://www.rls.org/