Sleep Education

American Academy of Sleep Medicine 

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Restless Legs Syndrome - Causes & Symptoms


What causes of restless legs syndrome varies from person to person. In some cases the cause is unknown, or it can be caused by or made worse by other health issues or medication. This may include:

Low iron levels

This can cause problems with brain cell communication that can lead to restless legs syndrome. If you think you have restless legs syndrome caused by low iron, talk with your physician and do not attempt to take supplements on your own.


This lifelong condition can damage blood vessels and nerves that affect leg muscles causing restless legs syndrome. By properly managing your diabetes, you may help prevent or improve your restless legs syndrome.


Many women have restless legs syndrome when they are pregnant. It usually goes away within a month of giving birth.


Some medications can cause restless legs syndrome or make it worse:
  • Allergy medications
  • Many antidepressants
  • Antihistamines and over-the-counter sleep aids
  • Nearly all centrally active dopamine-receptor antagonists, including anti-nausea medications


The primary symptom of restless legs syndrome is a sensation of discomfort in the legs that often defies description. The feeling is different than leg cramps or numbness from circulation problems. Patients have used the following words to describe this sensation:

  • Itchy
  • Crawling
  • Burning
  • Creepy
  • Throbbing

Usually this feeling is paired with the urge to move your legs. The desire usually worsens when you lie down or rest.

The symptoms of restless legs syndrome are frequently worse at night than in the morning.

A related problem is that your leg muscles might tighten or flex while you are still. These movements can be out of your control. In extreme cases, they may be periodic limb movements.

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