What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome

It has only been recently that we, as a public, have become aware of the disorder called Restless Leg Syndrome. Though RLS was first listed in medical books in 1945, it has been around for centuries and its cause is still a mystery.

RLS and ADD

Among the reasons and causes for RLS are a study released some years ago that stated adults with RLS most likely also suffered from ADD or ADHD. RLS symptoms can cause burning, itching, crawling sensations and the victim feels the uncontrollable need to move to seek relief.

In contrast, ADHD is characterized by restlessness, distractibility and impulsiveness leading the study to find a large number of RLS patients also showed symptoms of ADHD. Also, according to the study, the discomfort from RLS at times causes hyperactivity and distractibility, along with inattentiveness due to lack of sleep.

To further round out the study, both disorders seem to be the result of a lack what is called dopamine in the brain. This causes patients to with the inability to control their movements in a normal way. Many of the RLS medications work on the dopamine receptors to replace what has been lost, the same results occur in ADHD patients.

Iron Deficiency

Another theory for the causes of RLS comes from results in Magnetic Resonance imaging (MRI) scans that show lower amounts of iron in the patients brains, when compared with patients who do not have RLS, again leading to the idea of a lack of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is made from iron carried to the nerve cells in the brain.

Along this line, the explanation of RLS can be related to other medical conditions including, iron deficiency also known as anemia, Peripheral neuropathy caused by damage to the nerves of arms and legs, kidneys disease requiring dialysis, diabetes, Parkinsons disease, and temporary symptoms during pregnancy. With treatment of these conditions, symptoms often improve or disappear completely.

RLS is known to be either a primary disorder or secondary condition, knowing the difference will help the doctor treat the symptoms and causes. By definition, primary RLS is often called idiopathic, meaning it has no real cause and is the most common. Secondary RLS is caused by an underlying condition.

Secondary Causes

Studies have also shown that certain medications/substances can also be a cause for RLS. Some secondary causes can include a magnesium deficiency, lack of vitamin B-12, Lyme disease, arthritis, lithium, and other similar prescriptions. Primary RLS, however, may be caused by caffeine or alcohol intake, cigarette smoking as well as other lifestyle practices.

The result of these causes can lead to a moderate or severe RLS can be life changing with the person becoming totally disabled. To the extreme, those with RLS can not sit at work; continue to walk even while eating. Going to the movies, taking a trip in the car or a plane are often avoided. While RLS will not lead to other neurological conditions, it can get worse, leading to chronic fatigue syndrome and/or sleep disorders.