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Restless Legs Syndrome

What is restless leg syndrome (RLS)?

“The symptoms for restless legs syndrome are sensations in the legs where the relief from the uncomfortable sensation or the uncontrollable urge is to move your legs. You’ll notice people with restless legs syndrome, when they sit can’t keep their legs still because it’s just uncomfortable.”

That’s Patrick Stevens, director of Cardiopulmonary Services at CCMH.  

“RLS is a disorder that is estimated to affect about 1 in 10 individuals worldwide. People suffering from RLS may be experiencing a sensation of a creepy skin, or a stretching, or a pulling feeling. Sometimes, it’s expressed as pain because it aches. The hallmark of restless leg syndrome is having the urge to move your legs because that helps relieve the symptoms of the condition.”

Stevens says restless legs syndrome does not have a specific cause but develops over time.

“RLS can strike younger people, too, mostly pregnant women who tend to be a little more susceptible. Researchers are trying to determine if this is caused by an imbalance of dopamine in the brain and in the nervous system.”

In general, RLS strikes older people, and it does get worse with age. Stevens says its possible RLS is tied to sleep issues.

“As far as sleep being the causation for restless legs syndrome, it doesn’t appear to be the case. Nonetheless, we do have a correlation relationship. Restless leg is actually often classified as a sleep issue, a sleep deficit, because the symptoms occur mostly during the night. If you’re not getting good sleep, it affects everything else in your body.”

Does spending much of the day on your feet contribute to restless legs syndrome?

“Researchers are examining whether time spent on your feet, especially on hard surfaces like concrete, is a contributing factor. As mentioned earlier, most experts are looking at a chemical deficiency in the brain as the main culprit. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. If dopamine is not present in sufficient quantities, you don’t get your nervous system signals right. This is why most people think a lack of dopamine causes the need to move your legs.”

Are there any home treatments that people can administer to help with this?

“You can do leg massages. Take a hot bath. Stretch your legs, pull your toes up towards your leg, and stretch out the Achilles tendon. Those are the home therapies that are recommended. Hot or cold packs can also be used.”

Stevens says the most successful treatment for restless leg syndrome is medications.

“I think the most success has been with medications. Requip, or ropinirole, is one of the prescription drugs most commonly being used to help relieve the symptoms of RLS. Pramipexole and the rotigotine skin patch are other possible medications. All of these medications have to do with the production and moderation of dopamine. Some of these medications are also prescribed to patients with Parkinson’s disease.”

Diagnosing RLS begins with your primary care medical provider.

“If you think you are suffering from restless leg syndrome, make an appointment with your primary care medical provider. Tell them about your symptoms. Your provider will have a number of questions to ask, especially about your sleep and whether you’re getting good sleep on a regular basis. There may be other reasons you are experiencing symptoms. Just make sure you fully explain that to your provider.”

Those wanting more information about sleep studies can contact Patrick Stevens directly at 712-265-2666, or email at



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