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7 Health Conditions Linked to Restless Legs Syndrome

By

Cindy Kuzma

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This content is created or selected by the Healthgrades editorial team and is funded by an advertising sponsor. The content is subject to the Healthgrades medical review process for accuracy, balance and objectivity. The content is not edited or otherwise influenced by the advertisers appearing on this page except with the possible suggestion of the broad topic area. For more information, read the HealthGrades advertising policy.

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Trouble sleeping

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a common sleep-related movement disorder. Affected individuals feel a strong urge to move the legs during inactivity—like during sleep. Some cases of RLS appear out of nowhere. The strange creeping, tingling, or burning sensations begin developing in your legs for no obvious reason. Doctors aren't sure why, but this disorder often runs in families, so genes may be to blame.

Often, though, RLS occurs hand in hand with another health condition, such as kidney disease, diabetes, or pregnancy. Here are seven conditions linked to RLS—and how to cope with them so you can rest easy.

1. Kidney disease

Healthy kidneys clear extra water, waste, and toxins from your blood. When they no longer work as well as they should, you have chronic kidney disease. As many as 57% of people with kidney disease also have RLS.

Common risk factors for RLS in people with kidney disease include anemia, low iron levels, and high blood calcium levels. Since most people don't have symptoms of kidney disease until the condition is advanced, talk with your doctor about your risk. If you have a kidney transplant, your RLS will usually go away afterward.

2. Parkinson's disease

Your body uses a chemical called dopamine to help control your movements. It's a problem with this neurotransmitter that causes both RLS and another movement disorder, Parkinson's disease. In RLS, a shortage of iron—which the brain uses to make dopamine—may be the cause of symptoms. In the brains of people with Parkinson's disease, however, nerve cells that make dopamine are dying.

As many as half of people with Parkinson's disease also have RLS. The four primary signs of Parkinson's disease are tremors, stiffness, slow movements, and impaired balance and stability. Tell your doctor if you spot them. As with RLS, there's no cure, but treatment can help control the condition and improve your quality of life.

3. Diabetes

In one study comparing people with diabetes to those without, patients with the condition were about three times as likely to have RLS. Another study found RLS in almost half of patients with type 2 diabetes.

For people with diabetes, medications to treat neuropathy—the nerve damage caused by high blood sugar—sometimes work better than other treatments for RLS. RLS is also more common in people with pre-diabetes, whose blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can help control your blood sugar and prevent diabetes.

4. Rheumatoid arthritis

A vicious cycle often forms between RLS and the painful joint condition rheumatoid arthritis. People with rheumatoid arthritis are two to six times more likely to have RLS. When RLS disrupts their sleep, they feel more stress and fatigue, and are more likely to experience debilitating arthritis flare-ups.

Pain medications that treat rheumatoid arthritis may deplete iron levels, increasing RLS risk. One study found that only 20% of people with both conditions sought treatment for RLS. But there's good reason to see your doctor: Iron supplements, if needed, and other treatments for RLS can improve many aspects of your health.

5. Pregnancy

With the surges of estrogen and other hormones during pregnancy, many women report changes in their sleep patterns. About one-fourth of pregnant women will develop RLS, usually in their last trimester. Besides hormones, changes in levels of the nutrients iron and folate may play a role.

RLS usually goes away after your baby is born. But about 60% of women who have RLS during one pregnancy will have it again during the next pregnancy. They're also about four times as likely to develop RLS later in life, when they're not pregnant. Fortunately, the condition hasn't been linked to complications during delivery or to problems with babies' health.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jun 22, 2015

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Medical References

  1. Long-Term Management Issues in Restless Legs Syndrome. S. Chokrovert. Movement Disorders. April 29, 2011, epub ahead of print.
  2. Medical Comorbidity of Sleep Disorders. D. Dikeos and G. Georgantopoulos. Current Opinions in Psychiatry. May 16, 2011, epub ahead of print.
  3. Restless Legs Syndrome and Pregnancy: Follow-Up of Pregnant Women Before and After Delivery. J.P. Neau et al. European Neurology. 2010, vol. 64, no. 6, pp. 361–6.
  4. Restless Legs Syndrome in a Rheumatoid Arthritis Patient Cohort. R.M. Taylor-Gjevre et al. JCR: Journal of Clinical Rheumatology. January 2009, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 12–5.
  5. Sleep Disorders over the Full Range of Chronic Kidney Disease. A. Pierratos and P.J. Hanly. Blood Purification. 2011, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 146–50.
  6. Transient RLS During Pregnancy Is a Risk Factor for the Chronic Idiopathic Form. E. Cesnik et al. Neurology. Dec. 7, 2010, vol. 75, no. 23, pp. 2117–20.
  7. When Parkinson’s Disease Patients Go to Sleep: Specific Sleep Disturbances Related to Parkinson’s Disease. E.C. Schulte and J. Winkelmann. Journal of Neurology. May 2011, vol. 258, suppl. 2, pp. S328–35.
  8. Restless Legs Syndrome. American Academy of Family Physicians. January 2011. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/brain/disorders/868.printerview.html
  9. Chronic Kidney Disease, American Association of Family Physicians. November 2010. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/kidney/832.printerview.html
  10. Take Steps to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes. National Health Information Center. Feb. 7, 2011. http://www.healthfinder.gov/prevention/PrintTopic.aspx?topicId=73
  11. Restless Legs Syndrome. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. November 2010. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/rls/rls_All.html
  12. Parkinson’s Disease Information Page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. May 19, 2011 http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/parkinsons_disease/parkinsons_disease.htm?css=print
  13. Can’t Sleep? What To Know About Insomnia. National Sleep Foundation. 2010. http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-related-problems/insomnia-and-sleep
  14. Periodic Limb Movements in Sleep. National Sleep Foundation. 2010. http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-related-problems/periodic-limb-movements-sleep
  15. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) and Sleep. National Sleep Foundation. 2010. http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/sleep-related-problems/restless-legs-syndrome-rls-and-sleep

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