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Talking With Your Doctor About Restless Legs Syndrome

By

Chris Iliades, MD

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When you think you have restless legs syndrome (RLS), talking with your doctor becomes very important. That’s because there’s no test for RLS. Your doctor will base your diagnosis largely on what you say about your symptoms and family history. 

RLS is fairly common, affecting about 10% of Americans. Your doctor will decide if you have RLS by taking a careful medical history and doing a physical exam. The doctor might also do some blood tests. These can rule out other possible causes for your symptoms. There's no cure for RLS, but symptoms can usually be managed with lifestyle changes and medication. That's another reason to talk to your doctor about your condition.

Talk About Your Medical and Family History

No one knows the cause of RLS. It tends to run in families, though, and other medical conditions or medication can trigger it or make it worse. Because of this, your doctor will want to know about all of your health issues and all drugs you are taking. Make sure to tell your doctor if: 

  • Anyone in your family has an RLS diagnosis or has symptoms of RLS
  • You are pregnant
  • You have iron-deficiency anemia
  • You have diabetes, nerve damage, kidney disease, or Parkinson’s disease
  • You take drugs for nausea, mental illness, depression, or allergies

Talk About RLS Symptoms

There's no test for RLS, but your doctor will look for the four basic RLS symptoms listed below. Tell your doctor when your symptoms start, when they get worse, when they get better, and how much they bother you at night or during the day. The four basic symptoms include: 

  • Throbbing, creeping, or other unpleasant sensations in your legs that are worse at night and much better during the day
  • Uncontrollable urge to move your legs
  • Triggering of your symptoms when you rest, relax or sleep
  • Relief of your symptoms as long as you are moving

Poor sleep is a common result of RLS. Tell your doctor if you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Also let your doctor know if you are sleepy during the day. Be as specific as possible when sharing your symptoms.

Talk About Your Lifestyle

Your lifestyle habits can trigger RLS. Enjoying healthier lifestyle habits could be a way to manage your RLS. This is something you should discuss with your doctor. Give your doctor details about your: 

  • Diet
  • Alcohol use
  • Caffeine use
  • Sleep habits
  • Amount of physical activity

Lifestyle changes that could help you manage RLS can include getting more iron and B vitamins into your diet, not drinking alcohol, cutting back on caffeine, keeping regular hours for sleep, and getting more exercise. 

Talk About RLS Treatment Options

There is no cure for RLS, but you should be able to manage the symptoms. If you have any medical conditions or take any medication that might trigger RLS, ask what your doctor can do about these issues. Don’t change any of your medications without discussing it with your doctor first. Also talk to your doctor about the lifestyle changes you can make. 

Two categories of drugs have been approved by the FDA as RLS treatments. One works by increasing the brain chemical dopamine. The other is an antiseizure medication that relieves RLS symptoms. Talk to your doctor about these drugs and their side effects. Your doctor may also suggest other drugs. These can include drugs to help you sleep, antihypertensives, and pain relievers. 

RLS affects people differently. You may need to try several drugs until you find one that works best for you. Talk to your doctor about a management plan. That plan might include medication, a healthy lifestyle, a healthy diet, vitamin and mineral supplements, and avoiding RLS triggers.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Mar 31, 2016

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Medical References

  1. How Is Restless Legs Syndrome Diagnosed? National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/rls/diagnosis
  2. Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/restless_legs/detail_restless_legs.htm
  3. Diagnostic Criteria for RLS. Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation. http://www.rls.org/about-rls/diagnosis

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