ProvidersFariha Abbasi-Feinberg, MD
Restless legs syndrome — sometimes referred to as Willis-Ekbom disease — is a disorder in which unpleasant tickling or itching sensations create an urge to move one’s legs. It is considered a sleep disorder because it often affects people as they are going to sleep or relaxing. Many people with restless legs syndrome also experience limb jerking during sleep.
Up to 10 percent of Americans may have restless legs syndrome. It affects both sexes, but is more common in women. People of any age may have it., although most people who are affected severely are middle-aged or older. Restless leg syndrome is often unrecognized or misdiagnosed, especially if the symptoms are mild or ocassional.
Restless leg syndrome has many possible causes. One likely cause is genetics, as about half of people with the condition have family members with it. Chronic diseases include Parkinson's disease and diabetes may be a cause. Some medications, from allergy medicine to antidepressants, can be a cause. Also, a number of pregnant women experience restless leg syndrome, although it usually goes away within a month of delivery. Alcohol use and sleep deprivation may aggravate symptoms.
Moving the legs usually provides temporary relief, and many people who have restless leg syndrome are compelled to walk to relieve their symptoms. Lifestyle changes can also provide relief. For example, eliminating alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco can help. Establishing regular sleeping patterns cna help, too. Some people find leg massages or heat or ice packs beneficial. Restless legs syndrome can also be treated with various pharmaceuticals, though you should speak with a sleep medicine specialist before taking medications.