Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder that causes an irresistible urge to move the legs. This is often accompanied by sensations such as tingling, creeping, crawling, or aching in the legs, which can be temporarily relieved by movement.
RLS is a chronic condition that affects about 10 percent of the population and has been associated with reduced quality of life. If you have RLS, there are certain factors that can aggravate symptoms or cause flare-ups.
Factors that Contribute to RLS Flare-Ups
- Sleep Deprivation
One of the most common triggers for RLS flare-ups is lack of sleep. People with RLS often experience symptoms in the evening or at night, making it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. This can lead to a vicious cycle of worsening symptoms and even more difficulty sleeping, which can lead to increased stress and further exacerbation of RLS symptoms.
- Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety can also contribute to RLS flare-ups. When a person is anxious or under stress, the body releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can disrupt the delicate balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, leading to symptoms of RLS. Stress can also interfere with sleep patterns, which can exacerbate RLS symptoms even further.
- Certain Medications
Some medications can trigger RLS symptoms or make them worse. For example, certain anti-nausea drugs, antipsychotics, and antidepressants have been associated with RLS. It is crucial to discuss all medications with a doctor, as switching to a different medication may help alleviate RLS symptoms.
- Caffeine and Alcohol
Caffeine and alcohol can both contribute to RLS flare-ups. Caffeine is a stimulant that can interfere with sleep and disrupt the delicate balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, leading to symptoms of RLS. Alcohol, on the other hand, is a nervous system depressant that can lead to disrupted sleep and disrupt the delicate balance of neurotransmitters in the brain.
Pregnancy is another common cause of RLS flare-ups. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can affect the nervous system and increase the likelihood of RLS symptoms. RLS symptoms usually improve after delivery, but some women may continue to experience symptoms even after giving birth.
- Iron Deficiency
A deficiency of iron can also cause RLS flare-ups. Iron helps to produce dopamine, a chemical messenger responsible for movement and feelings of pleasure. Low levels of iron can lead to low levels of dopamine, which can trigger RLS flare-ups and cause other symptoms, including muscle spasms or involuntary movements.
Managing RLS Flare-Ups
While there is no outright cure for RLS, there are several strategies that can help manage flare-ups and improve quality of life.
Maintain Good Sleep Hygiene: Maintaining good sleep hygiene is one of the most important steps in managing RLS flare-ups. This includes going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed, and creating a relaxing bedtime routine.
Exercise: Regular exercise can also help alleviate RLS symptoms. Exercising helps promote relaxation and reduce the discomfort caused by RLS. It can also help promote better sleep, further compounding the positive effects.
Reduce Stress: Stress can exacerbate RLS symptoms, so finding ways to reduce stress and cope with challenging emotions can help manage RLS flare-ups. This could include meditation, yoga, or other relaxation techniques.
Medication: If other measures fail to relieve RLS flare-ups, medication may be prescribed. Certain medications, such as dopamine agonists and anticonvulsants, have proven to be effective in alleviating RLS symptoms for some people.
The Bottom Line
RLS flare-ups can be triggered by a variety of factors ranging from lifestyle choices to medical conditions. Addressing these issues can help effectively manage RLS flare-ups. In some cases, medication may also be necessary to reduce the intensity and frequency of flare-ups.