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What Causes Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)?

The specific causes of restless legs syndrome (RLS) are not known. Disease in the blood vessels of the legs or in the nerves in the legs that control leg movement and sensation was once thought to cause RLS, but both of these suggestions have been rejected.

RLS may be related to abnormalities in brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that help regulate muscle movements, or to abnormalities in the part of the central nervous system that controls automatic movements. Research is still being done in these areas.

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Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS): Know Your Triggers

Restless legs syndrome, or RLS, is a common nerve condition where you have unpleasant creeping, tugging, or pulling feelings in your legs. You might also have an overwhelming urge to move your legs. The symptoms are usually worse at night or when you're resting. Doctors don't know the cause of RLS, and there’s no cure. But certain things can trigger symptoms. Knowing your triggers and how to avoid them will help. Possible triggers include: Medication -- Your prescription or non-prescription...

Read the Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS): Know Your Triggers article > >

RLS can sometimes be caused by an underlying medical condition (secondary RLS); however, most of the time the cause is not clear.

What Medical Conditions Are Linked to RLS?

Many different medical conditions have been linked to RLS. The two most common conditions are iron-deficiency anemia (low blood count) and peripheral neuropathy (damage to the nerves of the arms and legs, often caused by underlying conditions such as diabetes).

Other medical conditions linked to RLS include:

  1. Alcohol
  2. Caffeine
  3. Anticonvulsant drugs (such as Dilantin)
  4. Antidepressant drugs (including amitriptyline, Paxil)
  5. Beta-blockers (drugs often used to treat high blood pressure)
  6. Antipsychotics
  7. Withdrawal from certain drugs, such as vasodilator drugs (for example, Apresoline), sedatives, or antidepressants (for example, Tofranil)

What Are the Risk Factors for RLS?

In many cases, RLS seems to run in families. People with a genetic link to RLS tend to get the condition earlier in life.

Find out how doctors diagnose restless legs syndrome.
Learn about restless legs syndrome treatments.
View the full table of contents for Your Guide to Sleep Disorders.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on January 24, 2015

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