Restless Legs Syndrome

By | June 8, 2022

Restless Legs Syndrome, RLS or colloquially known as restless legs, is a condition whose causes are still largely unknown. Symptoms can be countered with various medical approaches.

What is Restless Legs Syndrome?

Restless Legs Syndrome is a neurological condition that usually affects a patient’s legs and feet. In rarer cases, restless legs syndrome affects the arms. Translated into German, restless legs syndrome means something like ‘restless legs syndrome’. For what does coloboma stand for, please visit

Symptoms of the disease include a strong urge to move and sensory disturbances in the legs or arms. In addition, the restless legs syndrome can lead to involuntary movements in those affected, which often increase in situations of rest or even during sleep.

A distinction is made, for example, between the idiopathic (independent) and the secondary (developing on the basis of other disorders) form of restless legs syndrome.

It is estimated that around 5-10% of the population in Germany have Restless Legs Syndrome; Women tend to be more affected by restless legs syndrome than men.


The causes of restless legs syndrome have not yet been finally clarified in science; Among other things, the influence of an insufficient concentration of the neurotransmitter dopamine (a neurotransmitter of the nervous system, which is also known colloquially as the happiness hormone) and the influence of motor disorders (disorders of the musculoskeletal system) on the restless legs syndrome is suspected.

It is also possible that various nerve pathways in people affected by Restless Legs Syndrome react with above-average sensitivity or overexcitability.

The restless legs syndrome in its secondary form can be caused, for example, by neurological diseases (such as Parkinson ‘s disease), deficiency symptoms or various medications. If the restless legs syndrome is idiopathic (independent), genetic causes are assumed in medicine.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Symptomatic is an agonizing urge to move the legs when the body is at rest. This can appear in the form of tearing, pulling or burning during uncontrolled muscle movements. The involuntary muscle twitches occur both when you are awake and during sleep. The calves are often affected.

Periodic leg movements occur during sleep, leading to frequent waking up. The symptoms begin more intensely in the evening and at night and can be unilateral or bilateral. The discomfort can be barely noticeable, but can also be intense for a short or longer period of time. In more severe cases, restless legs syndrome (RLS) can lead to significant sleep disturbances despite existing tiredness.

These can last until early morning. Due to daytime sleepiness, considerable problems can arise in coping with everyday life the next day. These include concentration problems, bad mood, irritability and depressive moods. Microsleep while driving can indicate the cause of restless legs syndrome. Itching, pain and numbness can also be signs of restless legs syndrome.

In addition, an excessively rumpled bed in the morning, frequent waking up and standing up indicate this clinical picture. A sign of RLS disease can also affect well-being when sitting during the day. Numbness in the legs can also include an unnatural feeling of cold or heat. A typical symptom of restless legs syndrome is that the symptoms improve with movement.

Diagnosis & History

Restless legs syndrome is usually diagnosed by a neurologist (also known as a neurologist). A corresponding suspected diagnosis is often initially made on the basis of the observable symptoms or the symptoms described by the patient.

Furthermore, the neurologist has various tests available that can confirm the diagnosis of restless legs syndrome: A corresponding test consists, for example, of a single administration of L-Dopa (an active substance that is used, among other things, in the case of dopamine deficiency); if the symptoms improve as a result of this dose, this speaks for the restless legs syndrome.

The course of the syndrome depends, among other things, on the form that the restless legs syndrome has: If it is the idiopathic (independent) form, the onset of the disease in those affected can often be observed in the third decade of life. Idiopathic Restless Legs Syndrome is often associated with a moderate (often but not continuous) increase in symptoms over the lifetime of sufferers.

In general, the symptoms of restless legs syndrome are relatively mild, so that drug treatments can be avoided in most cases.


Restless Legs Syndrome does not cause any physical complications. However, the excruciating tingling, pain and restlessness mainly occur during periods of rest. Because of this, the organism cannot relax. Furthermore, the symptoms worsen in the evening before going to bed, so that falling asleep and staying asleep is not possible.

As a result, many sufferers suffer from a lack of sleep and feel extremely tired and listless during the day. They can often only cope with daily life with difficulty because they are exhausted, depressed and listless. Patients with RLS can thus lose their full ability to perform. As a result, those affected often also experience negative social effects due to their tiredness and their constant urge to move.

Sitting comfortably with friends and acquaintances for a longer period of time is not possible because there is always the urge to walk around constantly. Since friends and family often have no understanding for this behavior, it is not uncommon for social isolation to occur. On this basis, the psychological well-being of the patient is also severely impaired.

Restless legs syndrome can be the cause of other mental illnesses. Social isolation increases the risk of depression and suicidal thoughts. In order to increase the quality of life of those affected, psychotherapeutic support from a psychologist is recommended in addition to drug treatment of the syndrome.

When should you go to the doctor?

Having restless legs is not in itself a medical condition. Excessive caffeine consumption or nervousness can be the cause.

However, if restless legs syndrome is present, it can be assumed that it is a disease. It is a more or less pronounced neurological disorder. This requires a visit to a neurologist. For example, restless legs syndrome can occur as a side effect of taking antidepressants.

About 5-10 percent of the population is affected by restless legs syndrome. However, medical treatment is only necessary for every fifth person affected, namely in the case of very severe symptoms. It is usually a perceived level of suffering that drives people to see a doctor. A strong urge to move, which usually affects the legs, reduces the quality of life.

If increasing social isolation and avoidance of sedentary activities result from the restless legs syndrome, the doctor’s visit should no longer be postponed. The doctor may be able to identify and eliminate the causes of restless legs syndrome. If, for example, side effects of medication are involved, other medications with identical main active ingredients can possibly be given priority.

In other cases, depressants can be prescribed to alleviate the symptoms of restless legs syndrome. It should be noted that other medications are often already being taken. These must be compatible with each other. The doctor should therefore find out which diseases the person concerned is suffering from and which medications he must take regularly.

Treatment & Therapy

Medical treatment for restless legs syndrome is usually based on the level of suffering of the individual patient. Since the restless legs syndrome often contributes to restrictions in the quality of sleep, therapy in many cases starts with a corresponding improvement.

Patients in whom the restless legs syndrome is associated with pronounced symptoms and a high level of suffering are often treated with medication; such treatment can be continuous or needs-based, depending on the symptoms. For example, active ingredients that are a precursor of the neurotransmitter dopamine and are converted into dopamine by the body are used in restless legs syndrome.

So-called dopamine agonists (i.e. substances that resemble dopamine) are also used in restless legs syndrome: these substances can help to sensitize nerve cells to the absorption of dopamine. If the restless legs syndrome is relatively mild, non-drug procedures such as massages are sometimes used.

Some patients also describe hot or cold showers as soothing. If restless legs syndrome is present in a secondary form, therapy usually starts with combating the corresponding underlying diseases or disorders.


Since the causes of restless legs syndrome have not yet been finally clarified, there are currently hardly any possibilities to prevent the syndrome. In order to prevent restless legs syndrome from developing in a secondary form, consistent therapy for possible underlying diseases can be helpful.


Since Restless Legs Syndrome cannot be completely cured, the follow-up treatment of Restless Legs Syndrome is closely related to its therapy. It is therefore necessary to take medication for life, even after the symptoms of restless legs syndrome have subsided. The goal of follow-up care should be to avoid the need for opiate use if not already taken for restless legs syndrome.

Long-term use of opiates can lead to organ damage. Because of the medication intake, regular blood tests should be carried out for follow-up treatment. Liver and kidney function values ​​in particular must be closely monitored. If these worsen seriously, you have to switch to another drug.

In addition, checking the iron levels and taking iron supplements, if necessary, can prevent the disease from breaking out again or the symptoms from worsening. If possible, you should avoid taking sleeping pills (Z-Drugs), antidepressants, neuroleptics and beta-blockers, as these drugs can worsen or cause restless legs syndrome to break out.

Healthy sleep hygiene, i.e. a regular sleep rhythm with sufficient recovery phases, is beneficial against restless legs syndrome in the long term. In addition, sporting activity that strains the legs is beneficial for blood circulation in the same. This can prevent the symptoms from getting worse. Caffeine and stimulants, including nicotine, should be avoided.

You can do that yourself

Affected people who suffer from restless legs syndrome can also help themselves to at least alleviate the symptoms. For example, when restless legs appear, many people find it helpful to take a cold shower. Due to the cold, the blood vessels constrict and the nerves also calm down. In addition, patients describe a positive effect through movement. Regular walks in the evening can alleviate restlessness. Yoga and Pilates are also calming.

In addition, a healthy and balanced diet is very important for RLS. Bad food often creates a nutrient deficiency in the body. A lack of magnesium and iron in particular are associated with restless legs. This store can best be replenished through food. Avoid alcohol and too much sugar. Many patients also describe an improvement in symptoms through a targeted massage of the legs, especially the affected areas.

Since the causes of RLS have not yet been fully researched, regular relaxation exercises can also help to reduce the stress level in the body and thus calm the nerves. It is important that the symptoms do not disappear overnight, but only take effect after a few weeks.

Restless Legs Syndrome