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Restless legs syndrome FAQs

Up to 1 in 10 people in the UK experience restless legs syndrome or RLS at some stage in their life.

Women are affected more often than men are, and RLS is more common in middle age.

Get answers to frequently asked questions about RLS.

What causes restless legs syndrome

The cause of restless legs syndrome, also called Willis-Ekbom disease, is usually unknown.

Experts suspect that how the body uses the chemical dopamine may play a role.

Genetics also play a key role. About half of the people with RLS have family members affected too.

Many medical conditions are associated with RLS, including iron deficiency, diabetes, end-stage kidney disease, Parkinson's disease and even pregnancy. They account for a minority of RLS cases. However, treating these conditions, where they are present, can improve RLS symptoms.

Does restless legs syndrome ever go away by itself?

There have been reports of spontaneous remission from RLS. For some people symptoms occur intermittently, whereas for others the symptoms are present everyday. For some people symptoms become more severe over time.

For people with RLS symptoms caused by a medical condition, treatment of that condition can relieve or improve their RLS.

Will restless legs syndrome develop into something more serious?

Most people with RLS have the ‘idiopathic’ form - meaning there's no known cause. For these people it does not develop into more serious conditions, such as Parkinson's disease. However, it can cause sleep problems and interfere with quality of life increasing the risk of depression.

Where RLS is due to another medical condition such as diabetes, leaving this condition untreated can cause serious health problems as well as aggravating the RLS.

How can I get a good night's sleep despite restless legs syndrome?

Experts agree that simply changing your behaviour can often help. For people with mild to moderate RLS, the following steps may alleviate or prevent symptoms:

  • Reduce caffeine intake
  • Cut down on alcohol
  • Stop smoking, or at least cut back
  • Maintain a regular sleep pattern
  • Exercise regularly but moderately (heavy exercise can make the symptoms worse)
  • Apply heat or ice, or soak in a hot bath

When should I consider seeking medical advice about restless legs syndrome?

No one should endure significant discomfort without discussing their symptoms with a doctor. Even if you feel your RLS symptoms are mild, they may be seriously affecting your sleep.

Only you can decide when your RLS is affecting your life. If you have symptoms of RLS, consider whether you're also:

If you have any of these symptoms, or if you just want to feel better, it's time to seek medical advice.

Are there treatments for restless legs syndrome?

Drugs used to treat RLS in the UK include:

  • Levodopa may be recommended for people with intermittent symptoms, as daily use has a risk of making symptoms worse.
  • Dopamine agonists are often recommended for people with more frequent symptoms. These include ropinirole, pramipexole and rotigotine.
  • Painkillers and medication to help with sleep may also be recommended.
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