What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a condition that causes uncomfortable sensations in the lower legs. However, this uncontrollable urge to move can also occur in the thighs, feet, arms, chest and face.

RLS commonly occurs in the evening or nighttime hours when sitting or lying down. Why? Experts say RLS is linked to low dopamine levels. Dopamine is a chemical used by brain cells to communicate and produce smooth, purposeful muscle activity and movement. As dopamine levels naturally decrease toward the end of the day, RLS symptoms tend to worsen. Moving the affected limbs may temporarily ease the unpleasant feeling.

However, low dopamine is just one reason people may struggle with RLS. Keep reading if you’re curious about what causes restless leg syndrome besides hormone levels.

Common risk factors for RLS

While RLS isn’t directly related to underlying serious medical problems, the following conditions may increase your risk of experiencing symptoms of RLS:

  • Varicose veins
    Damaged vein valves halt blood flow from the legs to the heart. When this happens, blood pools inside the vein, causing swelling, pain, and a heavy feeling in the legs. This can, in turn, lead to many of the same symptoms as RLS.
  • Peripheral neuropathy
    This is damage to the nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord. It often leads to weakness, numbness, and pain in the hands and feet. It’s sometimes related to chronic diseases like diabetes and alcoholism.
  • Iron deficiency
    Even without anemia, iron deficiency can cause or worsen RLS symptoms. Low iron levels in the blood can lead to a fall in dopamine levels, which triggers restless leg syndrome.
  • Kidney failure
    Chronic kidney disease (CKD) can exacerbate symptoms of RLS due to decreased iron (resulting from frequent blood draws and dialysis). Also, when the kidneys don’t function properly, iron stores in the blood can decrease, worsening RLS symptoms.
  • Spinal cord conditions
    Lesions on the spinal cord resulting from damage or injury have been linked to RLS. Those with a history of anesthesia to the spinal cord (e.g., spinal block) also increase the risk of developing RLS.

Common symptoms of RLS and how to ease them

Now that you know what causes restless leg syndrome let’s look at some common symptoms and how to alleviate them.

Common symptoms of RLS

These unpleasant sensations can range from mild to severe:

  • Tingling, burning, itching, or throbbing
  • A “creepy-crawly” sensation
  • Feeling as though your blood is carbonated
  • A painful cramping sensation (particularly in the calves)

How to ease symptoms of RLS

Mild cases of RLS that aren’t linked to underlying health conditions may not require medical intervention. A few simple lifestyle changes may help ease symptoms:

  • Maintain a consistent bedtime
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine late at night
  • Avoid smoking and tobacco products
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Maintain a healthy weight

Those struggling with severe symptoms of RLS may need medication to help regulate dopamine and iron levels in their body. If you’re unable to sleep through the night or experiencing significant pain or discomfort associated with RLS, call Carolina Vein Specialists at 336-536-6522. We can help you feel better fast, so you can get back to sleep.

Treatment options for RLS

While the best treatment for RLS is treating the underlying condition, you can help alleviate symptoms with the following:

  • Pain relief medication
    A mild opiate-based pain relief medication may be prescribed to relieve pain associated with RLS.
  • Hypnotic medication
    If RLS is significantly disrupting your sleep, a short-term course of hypnotic medication may be recommended to help you sleep.
  • Varicose vein treatment

There are several treatment options available to help improve your vein health and eliminate the discomfort of RLS. Talk to a vein care specialist near you to find a procedure that meets your needs.

Are you interested in learning more about the treatment for restless leg syndrome from the skilled specialists at Carolina Vein Specialists? Our vein care specialists are skilled in the most advanced technology, medicines, and vein care procedures — call 336-536-6522 to schedule an appointment today.