Restless Leg Syndrome
By Cathy Rosenbaum PharmD MBA RPh CHC
Founder & CEO, Rx Integrative Solutions
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) was first described over 70 years ago. Symptoms can show up as achy or crawling sensations in the resting leg that oftentimes go away with leg movement. RLS can be caused by iron or folate deficiency, kidney problems, pregnancy, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, thyroid issues, Parkinson’s disease, and depression, among others. A family history of RLS is common in individuals with idiopathic RLS. Individuals with RLS can have trouble getting a refreshing REM sleep. RLS is often misdiagnosed as a vascular problem in the veins, and that’s why it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis from your PCP first before treating the condition.
Factors that may make RLS symptoms worse include cold, heat, fatigue, and stress. RLS prescription medication treatments can include, but are not limited to, benzodiazepines, gabapentin, clonidine, propranolol, and narcotics, each of which have significant side effects. The use of opioids and benzodiazepines together (e.g., Valium, Ativan, Xanax, clonazepam) is not safe. For perspective, benzodiazepines as a medication class are best avoided in seniors due to drowsiness and increased risk of falls and dementia. Depending on the type of RLS diagnosed, non-prescription medication and/or non-invasive alternatives can be considered to treat symptoms.
Interestingly, there might be less iron in the brain of an RLS individual compared to non-RLS individuals. People with iron deficiency RLS respond well to iron supplementation. Improvement is most often seen in those with the lowest initial serum ferritin levels.
Pregnant women are more likely to develop RLS than non-pregnant women due to reduced folate levels in the former population. In most instances, symptoms are mild and resolve after delivery. Treatment involves folate supplementation, reassurance, and appropriate food intake.
Different medications can either cause or worsen RLS symptoms. Antidepressants like Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft are three such culprits. One study showed that use of non-opioid analgesics is associated with an increased risk of RLS in individuals on long-term antidepressant therapy (Leutgeb. Eur J Med Res 2002;7:368-379).
Vitamin D and Magnesium Deficiency
Published literature (J Sleep Breath 2016) indicates that low vitamin D levels and/or low magnesium levels may be associated with RLS. Magnesium supplementation makes it easier for leg muscles to relax. Treatment with vitamin D or magnesium dietary supplements with the advice and consent of your PCP or pharmacist are two options to consider if you are suffering from these types of RLS.
For individuals with mild RLS symptoms, other holistic options include relaxation/stress management therapy, acupuncture, and abstaining from caffeine and caffeinated products, nicotine, and alcohol to help improve sleep, help reduce stress, and indirectly lessen symptoms.
If you are experiencing RLS-like symptoms and are concerned about what to do, the first step is to schedule an office visit with your PCP to get an accurate diagnosis. It is unwise and unsafe to self-diagnose and try various remedies without your PCP’s knowledge.