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How Is Restless Legs Syndrome Treated?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) has no cure. If a condition or medicine triggers RLS, it may go away or get better if the trigger is relieved or stopped.

RLS can be treated. The goals of treatment are to:

  • Prevent or relieve symptoms
  • Increase the amount of sleep you're getting and improve the quality of your sleep
  • Treat or correct any underlying condition that may trigger or worsen RLS

Mild cases of RLS often are treated with lifestyle changes and sometimes with periodic use of medicines. More severe RLS usually is treated with daily medicines.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes can prevent or relieve the symptoms of RLS. For mild RLS, lifestyle changes may be the only treatment needed.

Preventing Symptoms

Many common substances, such as alcohol and tobacco, can trigger RLS symptoms. Avoiding these substances can limit or prevent symptoms.

Some prescription and over-the-counter medicines can cause or worsen RLS symptoms. Tell your doctor about all of the medicines you're taking. He or she can tell you whether you should stop or change certain medicines.

Adopting good sleep habits can help you fall asleep and stay asleep—a problem for many people who have RLS. Good sleep habits include:

  • Keeping the area where you sleep cool, quiet, comfortable, and as dark as possible.
  • Making your bedroom sleep-friendly. Remove things that can interfere with sleep, such as a TV, computer, or phone.
  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Some people who have RLS find it helpful to go to bed later in the evening and get up later in the morning.
  • Avoiding staying in bed awake for long periods in the evening or during the night.

Doing a challenging activity before bedtime, such as solving a crossword puzzle, may ease your RLS symptoms. This distraction may make it easier for you to fall asleep. Focusing on your breathing and using other relaxation techniques also may help you fall asleep.

Regular, moderate physical activity also can help limit or prevent RLS symptoms. Often, people who have RLS find that if they increase their activity during the day, they have fewer symptoms.

Relieving Symptoms

Certain activities can relieve RLS symptoms. These include:

  • Walking or stretching
  • Taking a hot or cold bath
  • Massaging the affected limb(s)
  • Using heat or ice packs on the affected limb(s)
  • Doing mentally challenging tasks

Choose an aisle seat at the movies or on airplanes and trains so you can move around, if necessary.

Medicines

You may need medicines to treat RLS if lifestyle changes can't control symptoms. Many medicines can relieve or prevent RLS symptoms.

No single medicine works for all people who have RLS. It may take several changes in medicines and dosages to find the best approach. Sometimes, a medicine will work for a while and then stop working.

Some of the medicines used to treat RLS also are used to treat Parkinson's disease. These medicines make dopamine or mimic it in the parts of the brain that control movement. (Dopamine is a chemical that helps you move properly.)

If medicines for Parkinson's disease don't prevent or relieve your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe other medicines. You may have to take more than one medicine to treat your RLS.

Always talk with your doctor before taking any medicines. He or she can tell you the side effects of each RLS medicine. Side effects may include nausea (feeling sick to your stomach), headache, and daytime sleepiness.

In some cases, RLS medicines may worsen problems with excessive gambling, shopping, or sexual activity. Sometimes, continued use of RLS medicines may make your RLS symptoms worse.

Contact your doctor if you have any of these problems. He or she can adjust your medicines to prevent these side effects.

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November 1, 2010