11 Causes of Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

Evidence Based Article 📄
This article has been based on relevant and up-to-date scientific studies. Our writers are unbiased and objective and present the facts as they are known. Numbers in brackets within the article refer to sources included in the reference list at the end of the article.

Restless leg syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, is a neurological disorder characterized by an uncontrollable urge to move the legs, usually due to an uncomfortable sensation. This urge is typically heightened during the evening or at night when a person is sitting or lying down.

While RLS primarily affects the legs, in some cases, it may extend to the arms or other parts of the body. Beyond the disruption in sleep, RLS can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. Read below to learn about the causes of this disorder.

Factors and Triggers for Restless Leg Syndrome

The precise cause of RLS remains elusive. However, various factors and conditions are believed to contribute to or exacerbate the condition:

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1. Genetics

Family history plays a role in this syndrome, especially if RLS onset occurs at a younger age. Specific genes have been linked to RLS. [1]

2. Dopamine Dysregulation

Dopamine, a crucial neurotransmitter for muscle movement control, plays a central role. Dysfunctional dopamine pathways can lead to RLS.

3. Pregnancy

Pregnancy, particularly in the third trimester, can temporarily induce RLS in women. However, symptoms often subside within a month after giving birth.

4. Iron Deficiency

Low iron levels in the brain, even without anemia, may be associated with RLS. Iron supplementation often alleviates RLS symptoms.

5. Chronic Conditions

Conditions like peripheral neuropathy, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes can initiate or exacerbate RLS. Treating these underlying conditions can often alleviate RLS.

6. Medications

Certain drugs, such as specific antidepressants, antipsychotics, antihistamines, and anti-nausea medications, can worsen RLS. Always consult a doctor if you suspect your medications may exacerbate your symptoms.

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7. Lifestyle Factors

Alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco may intensify RLS symptoms for some individuals. Additionally, sleep deprivation or sleep disorders can trigger or worsen the symptoms.

8. Neurological Disorders

Conditions like Parkinson’s disease and related disorders often coexist with RLS.

9. Venous Insufficiency

Impaired leg veins can be associated with RLS, although further research is needed.

10. Uremia

Uremic RLS describes a collection of symptoms occurring when there is impaired kidney function. Treating kidney disease can ease RLS symptoms.

11. Psychological Stress

Physical and psychological stress can exacerbate RLS symptoms. Stress can affect neurotransmitter balance, disrupt sleep, increase muscle tension, and overstimulate the sympathetic nervous system. In the context of RLS, stress can often create a vicious cycle: stress exacerbates RLS symptoms, and discomfort and sleep disturbances from RLS increase stress levels.

Restless Leg Syndrome affects many people, reducing sleep quality and overall well-being. Identifying potential causes or triggers, including psychological stress, can be crucial for effective management and treatment. Anyone suspecting they have RLS should consult a physician for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.