Restless Legs Syndrome and Rheumatoid Arthritis—Is There a Connection?


Katrina Woznicki

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Restless legs syndrome

What might a burning sensation in your legs have to do with pain and stiffness in your hands and wrist? Restless legs syndrome (RLS) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are two very different disorders, but they might share a common connection: iron deficiency.

RLS occurs in about 10% of the U.S. population. Nearly one-third of these people also have RA, a type of autoimmune disorder. Both conditions are more common among women than men. Sleep disturbances and chronic fatigue are problems for people with both RLS and RA.

Why is RLS so common among people with RA? The brain chemical dopamine is critical to both your central nervous system and immune system function. To do its job properly, dopamine needs iron. Many people with RLS have low iron levels. This can reduce the effectiveness of dopamine in your brain.

Many health conditions can affect how much iron is in your brain, or how it’s used. This increases your risk for RLS. One of these conditions is RA.

Watch: Managing RA With Lifestyle