Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder that causes people to experience an irresistible urge to move their legs, often accompanied by uncomfortable sensations such as tingling, itching, burning, and cramping.
While RLS can affect anyone, it is more prevalent in pregnant women compared to the general population. So, what causes increased susceptibility to RLS during pregnancy?
1. Changes in Hormone Levels
One of the main reasons pregnant women are more susceptible to RLS is because of the changes in hormone levels that occur during pregnancy. Specifically, estrogen levels increase significantly – which can affect dopamine production in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating movement and mood, and low levels of dopamine have been linked to RLS.
2. Iron Deficiency
Iron deficiency is another common cause of RLS during pregnancy. Iron is an essential nutrient that is necessary for the production of hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen in the blood. Iron is also involved in neurotransmitter production, so a deficiency can affect dopamine levels and lead to RLS. Pregnant women are at an increased risk of iron deficiency because they require more iron to support the growing fetus, which increases the risk for RLS development.
3. Increased Blood Volume
During pregnancy, the body produces more blood to support the growing fetus. This increased blood volume can put pressure on the blood vessels and nerves in the legs, leading to RLS symptoms. Additionally, the weight gain associated with pregnancy can exacerbate this pressure, making RLS symptoms more severe.
4. Changes in Sleep Patterns
As the fetus grows, it becomes more challenging for the pregnant mother to find a comfortable sleeping position, often leading to sleep disturbances. Additionally, hormonal fluctuations can lead to insomnia and other sleep disorders. Lack of sleep can potentially trigger or exacerbate RLS symptoms and vice versa, creating a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break.
5. Stress and Anxiety
Last but not least, stress and anxiety can also contribute to RLS symptoms during pregnancy. Pregnancy can be a stressful and overwhelming time for many women. And as you may know, stress can disrupt chemical balance in the brain, which as we have established, can trigger RLS symptoms.
Managing RLS During Pregnancy
If you are experiencing RLS symptoms during pregnancy, there are several things you can do to manage them. First and foremost, it is crucial to maintain a healthy diet. Eating a balanced diet that is rich in iron and other essential nutrients can help prevent iron deficiency.
You may also want to try making changes to your sleep environment. Investing in a comfortable mattress and pillows, using a pregnancy pillow, and practicing good sleep hygiene can all help improve your sleep quality and reduce RLS symptoms. Wearing compression stockings can also help improve circulation and ease RLS symptoms.
Finally, try to find ways to relax and manage stress. Taking a warm bath or shower before bedtime, practicing yoga or meditation, exercising regularly, and getting regular leg massages can all help reduce stress, promote relaxation, and make it easier to fall asleep at night.
The Bottom Line
Restless legs syndrome is a common condition that can be common and particularly troublesome during pregnancy. While anybody can develop RLS, hormonal fluctuations and other changes that take place during pregnancy can increase the likelihood of developing RLS.
If you suspect that you may be experiencing RLS symptoms, it’s important to talk to your doctor and work together to develop a treatment plan that is right for you. In most cases, simple lifestyle changes can go a long way in helping alleviate pregnancy-related RLS symptoms.