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Pregnancy and RLS

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Nearly a third of pregnant women have a condition called restless legs syndrome (RLS). People who have restless legs syndrome describe it as an "itchy," "pulling," "burning," "creepy-crawly" feeling that gives them an overwhelming urge to move their legs.

Once they do move their legs, the feeling often subsides. But by then the movement has already woken them up.

Causes of Restless Legs Syndrome in Pregnancy

Scientists don't know exactly what causes the sensations in the legs at night. But some believe it may stem from an imbalance of the brain chemical dopamine. That chemical normally helps keep muscle movements smooth and even.

RLS in pregnancy might be triggered by a lack of enough folic acid or iron. There's also some evidence that rising estrogen levels during pregnancy may contribute to RLS.

Trying to calm your restless legs all night can make you sleepy and irritable during the day.

Having restless legs syndrome can also make you more likely to have a longer labor and to need a C-section.

Treating RLS While Pregnant

If your symptoms are severe enough to interrupt your sleep night after night, you'll probably want to see your doctor to get RLS treated. That can be challenging during pregnancy.

Most drugs typically used to treat restless legs syndrome, such as Requip (ropinirole) and Mirapex (pramipexole), have not been studied extensively in pregnant women. So there is not enough data to determine all potential risks for a developing fetus.

Before you take any medicine for restless legs syndrome, your doctor should check your iron levels. If you're low, you can take an iron supplement. In many cases where the supply of iron in the body is low a supplement will be enough to correct RLS.

If your RLS symptoms still don't go away after an iron deficiency has been found and treated, some doctors prescribe opioid (narcotic) medication. Because of a risk of withdrawal symptoms in a newborn, opioids are typically given for a short period of time.

Also, the FDA has approved a device for treating RLS. Relaxis is the name of the vibrating pad placed under the legs while you're in bed. It is available only by prescription. 

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