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How Is Restless Legs Syndrome Treated?

Behavioral Changes and Prescription Medications May Help

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Updated December 30, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

If you find yourself experiencing symptoms of restless legs syndrome (RLS), you may be interested in learning about your treatment options. How is restless legs treated? Are there daytime activities that might improve your RLS symptoms? What are the prescription medications that are used to treat restless legs?

To answer these questions, let’s review an excerpt from UpToDate -- a trusted electronic medical reference used by health care providers and patients alike. Then, read on for additional information about what all of this means for you.

"You might feel better if you:

  • Do activities that keep your mind alert during the day, such as crossword puzzles.
  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. These things seem to make RLS worse.
  • Stretch your legs at night before you go to sleep.

"Some people with RLS do not need treatment because they have mild symptoms that don’t bother them very often. If treatment is needed, there are several medicines doctors can suggest. Examples include iron supplements, pramipexole (brand name: Mirapex), ropinirole (brand name: Requip), and carbidopa/levodopa (brand name: Sinemet)."

Not everyone with restless legs symptoms may be interested in treatment. If the symptoms are mild, relatively infrequent, and not disruptive to you or your partner’s sleep, you may decide that treatment is not necessary. Simple interventions, such as those described above, may be enough to keep your symptoms at bay. However, when these behavioral changes are not enough, you may move on to other options.

There are many potential causes of restless legs syndrome, and one of the most common is iron deficiency. In this case, taking an iron supplement may be all that is needed to treat your condition. There are other causes that are reversible or, such as in the case of pregnancy, resolve on their own. In some instances, the cause is never identified (as occurs in idiopathic RLS). In these cases, another treatment may be sought.

The most commonly used prescription treatments for RLS include medications that affect dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that works in nerve cells and appears to have a role in RLS. A medication called Sinemet directly supplements dopamine within the body. Alternatively, medications such as Mirapex and Requip work to enhance the activity of dopamine at the receptor sites of cells.

Beyond the medications that affect dopamine, there are other prescription options available. These medications include opioids (often used as narcotic pain pills), gabapentin (brand name: Neurontin), and sleeping pills called benzodiazepines.

One important potential consequence of treatment of RLS is augmentation. This is a phenomenon where the restless legs symptoms may move earlier in the day, become more severe, or affect your arms. It does not always occur, but if it does, it may require a modification of your treatment.

If you are bothered by your restless legs symptoms and are interested in learning more about your treatment options, you should speak with your doctor. You will likely be able to find a treatment that is effective and allows you to get the rest that you need.

Want to learn more? See UpToDate for additional in-depth medical information.

Source:

"Restless legs syndrome." UpToDate. Accessed: December 2011.

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