If you have restless legs syndrome (RLS), you know how annoying — and sometimes painful — the condition can be.
You may feel a strong urge to move your legs, especially when you’re lying down or sitting for long periods of time. The sensation is often described as tingling, crawling, pulling, or itching.
RLS can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. The condition is also associated with other health problems, including anxiety and depression.
In this article from New Exodus Health, we’ll explore the link between RLS and psychiatric comorbidities. We’ll also look at potential causes and triggers of RLS, common symptoms, and typical treatment options.
What Is RLS?
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder that causes a strong urge to move the legs in an attempt to quell the feelings of restless energy that run up and down them.
RLS typically worsens during periods of rest or inactivity and improves with movement. As a result, the condition can make the sleeping process and times of rest extremely uncomfortable, giving the sufferer of RLS feelings of restless hopelessness.
RLS is a chronic condition that affects between 4% and 29% of adults in the Western world. The condition is more common in women than men and usually begins after age 40 — although, this condition can affect anyone at any age.
What Causes RLS?
The exact cause of RLS is unknown, but there are several theories. One theory suggests that RLS is caused by a problem with the brain chemical dopamine, which helps control muscle movement.
Other potential causes of RLS include:
- Chronic diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease and kidney failure
- Certain medications, including anti-nausea drugs and anti-seizure medications
- Iron deficiency anemia or other nutritional deficiencies
- Hormonal changes in women due to menstruation or menopause
Symptoms of RLS can vary from person to person. Some people may experience mild symptoms that come and go without treatment, while others may have more severe symptoms that require medical intervention.
Common symptoms include:
- Restless legs that become worse at night
- An urge to move your legs when they’re at rest or during inactivity
- Sensations that feel like tingling, itching, crawling, burning, or throbbing in the legs
- Pain or discomfort in the legs
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
RLS can also cause daytime fatigue, moodiness, and irritability. In severe cases, the condition can interfere with work and other aspects of daily life.
If you think you may have RLS, see your doctor for an evaluation. Your doctor will ask about your medical history and symptoms. He or she may also order blood tests to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms, such as iron deficiency anemia.
There is no single test that can diagnose RLS. Instead, the diagnosis is made based on a combination of factors, including:
- Your medical history
- A physical examination
- Blood tests to rule out other conditions
- A sleep study to rule out other sleep disorders
There is no cure for RLS, but there are treatments that can help relieve symptoms and improve quality of life. Treatment options include lifestyle changes, traditional medications, and alternative methods — such as ketamine therapy.
Making certain lifestyle changes can help relieve symptoms of RLS. These changes include:
- Exercising regularly
- Taking breaks during extended periods of sitting or standing
- Stretching your legs before bedtime
- Massaging your legs
- Taking a hot bath
- Adjusting your sleeping environment (e.g., using a supportive mattress)
There are several medications that can be used to treat RLS, including dopaminergic drugs, iron supplements, and anticonvulsants. However, many of the typical medications prescribed and used to treat conditions like RLS often cause unwanted or uncomfortable side effects.
Some people with RLS find relief from naturopathic, holistic therapies, such as acupuncture or massage. These therapies are not a cure for RLS, but they may help reduce symptoms.
Also, another breakthrough treatment option showing considerable promise is the use of ketamine therapy for RLS.
This therapy uses a medication that is typically used as an anesthetic. However, the use of ketamine has recently been found to be effective in treating RLS symptoms and has shown promise in helping people overcome depression and insomnia.
Psychiatric Comorbidities of RLS
RLS is a chronic condition that can cause significant distress and disruption in one’s life. The condition is also associated with other health problems, including anxiety and depression.
It’s estimated that nearly half of all people with RLS also have a psychiatric or mood disorder. The most common comorbidities are anxiety and depression, but RLS is also associated with other mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
RLS can also worsen the symptoms of anxiety and depression. For example, as mentioned above, the condition can cause insomnia, which can lead to fatigue and irritability. The condition can also interfere with work and other aspects of daily life, which can lead to social isolation and further distress.
Get the Treatment You Need at New Exodus Health
If you are struggling with RLS, or if you suspect that you may be suffering from a comorbid condition like anxiety or depression, New Exodus Health can help. We offer a comprehensive approach to mental health care, including ketamine therapy, for a variety of conditions.
Our team of medical providers has extensive experience helping people overcome the symptoms of psychiatric disorders and other chronic health issues.
We believe in treating the whole person, not just the symptoms. Our goal in treating the root cause of your conditions is to help you find relief from most — if not all — of your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
If you think you may benefit from our services, please contact us today to schedule an appointment. We look forward to helping you on your journey to recovery!