Who Is at Risk of Developing Restless Leg Syndrome?

It’s nighttime. You’re tired. And you’re finally nestled in your bed, ready to drift off into much-needed sleep. But before you can start counting sheep, that familiar symptom starts to creep in: the undeniable urge to move your legs. Sure, you can try to ignore it, but eventually, the need to move your legs (or sometimes, your arms) is irresistible. So, you move your limbs. You find relief — but only for a few moments. Then the urge to move returns, robbing you of the rest you need to stay healthy and alert the next day.

If that sounds familiar, you might have restless leg syndrome (RLS), a condition that affects about 10 percent of the adult population in the U.S. While no one knows the exact cause of RLS, there are factors that can make you more prone to the condition. While some factors can’t be changed, others can — and knowing those modifiable risk factors might help you learn how to manage and even eliminate your symptoms.

Symptoms of restless leg syndrome

The symptoms of RLS are annoying, but they’re also pretty unmistakable. Most people with restless leg syndrome report symptoms like:

RLS symptoms occur when you’re resting, either lying down or sitting still for some time. During the day, symptoms tend to be easier to deal with, and sometimes you may overlook them. At night, though, RLS symptoms can interfere with sleep, leaving you unrested, moody, irritable, and more prone to mistakes at work the next day.

Even though the specific cause or trigger of RLS symptoms is unclear, researchers believe RLS is caused by an overactive or over-sensitive nervous system. That is, the nerves in your legs (or less often, your arms) become overstimulated by an external or internal source, causing widespread feelings of itchiness or an urgent need to change positions.

RLS risk factors

Although the specific cause of RLS hasn't been identified, some factors can make you more prone to developing RLS. In a 2016 study of more than 50,000 healthcare professionals, researchers identified several risk factors associated with the development of restless leg syndrome in about 1,600 of those individuals, including:

The researchers suggested that at least some cases of restless leg syndrome might be preventable by reducing or eliminating at least some of these risks.

Sometimes, RLS symptoms develop as a symptom of an underlying medical condition, like kidney disease or diabetes. Nutritional deficiencies can also cause RLS symptoms, along with spontaneous muscle twitching or weakness. RLS occurs more often in women and older people, and if you have a family history of RLS, you’re more likely to develop it as well. Sometimes, RLS symptoms develop during pregnancy.

Many people with restless leg syndrome have a blood vessel disorder called chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), or they may have a large number of prominent varicose veins. Both of these conditions can interfere with healthy circulation, triggering the nerve reactions that cause restless leg symptoms. In both CVI and varicose veins, tiny valves inside your veins stop working, making it harder for blood to return to your heart. As your circulation slows down, blood can “pool” in your legs, weakening the blood vessel walls and causing them to bulge. In superficial veins, this weakness causes the bulging, dark appearance that’s characteristic of varicose veins. In CVI, the deeper veins are affected, which means you can’t detect it on your own. Scheduling a vein evaluation with Dr. Ahmad is the first (and most important) step toward improving your leg circulation and getting rid of those annoying RLS symptoms.

Learn how to manage your restless leg syndrome

At the Comprehensive Vein Treatment Center, our team uses advanced diagnostics to determine the underlying cause of your restless leg symptoms. Then we tailor a treatment program that is based on your lifestyle, your health history, and other factors to help you reduce or eliminate those symptoms. To find out how to manage your restless leg symptoms, book an appointment online today.

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