Restless legs syndrome is a common experience for prenant women. Here we’ll uncover all the information about restless legs syndrome pregnancy. And you can also learn effective ways to treat RLS.
What is restless legs syndrome?
Restless legs syndrome, also known as RLS, is a sleep-related disorder that causes an overwhelming, and oftentimes exhausting, urge to move your legs while at rest. You may feel like thousands of ants crawling under your skin when suffering RLS, and you cannot have a good sleep at night. Due to the disturbance in sleep, you may have daytime sleepiness, low energy, irritability, and a depressed mood. So RLS may make your life worse and worse if it is not treated in time.
Many people have experienced RLS, especially for pregnant women. And according to statistics, nearly 10% to 15% Americans suffer from RLS throughout the year.
Above chart shows the sleep pattern of a restless legs syndrome patient (red) vs. a healthy sleep pattern (blue). Y-Axis shows Stage of Sleep.
Causes of RLS according to latest research
Even though restless legs is a kind of common syndrome in clinical medicine, there is no cure for the cause of it. Commonly we think it is related to the genetics. And there are some factors that are associated with restless leg syndrome.
- Chronic illnesses
Certain medicines, including anti-nausea drugs, antipsychotic drugs, some antidepressants, and cold and allergy medications containing sedating antihistamines, can also contribute RSL symptoms. So never stop taking a medication before talking with your health care provider.
Many times pregnant women experience RLS, often in the third trimester. The restless legs syndrome usually goes away soon after giving birth.
Typical symptoms of RLS
RLS can range from mild to totally intolerable, which negatively affects your quality of life. To identify restless legs syndrome, you should look out for these signs:
- A strong desire to move legs when you lie or sit down
- An urge to move your legs that feels impossible to resist, mostly when you’re sitting still
- A creepy-crawly, itching, pulling, feeling in your legs
- Symptom relief by moving your legs
- Waking yourself, or your partner, with your leg movements during sleep
- Involuntary leg movements while awake
- Tired and unable to concentrate during the day
- Symptoms worse at night
5 recommendation for RLS treatment
RLS is treatable though it cannot be cured. To manage symptoms, you should have fully communication with your health care professional about your symptoms and any current medical conditions, so the physician can help you manage your RLS. Most of RLS can be controlled and lessened after a period time of treatment.
Some restless leg syndrome can be caused by certain medications, you might be able to switch medications, or your doctor might prescribe lifestyle changes, such as more exercise. Please keep in mind that it is important to understand the symptoms of RLS, so you should always talk to your doctor about a possible diagnosis and get the right treatment.
Here are some common treatments:
- Making lifestyle changes, such as exercising and limiting caffeine and alcohol intake
- Checking for an iron deficiency
- Checking with your doctor to see if any of your medications could be causing your RLS
- Taking hot baths and getting leg massages
- Taking a prescription medication to help with severe pain and sleep
Restless Legs Syndrome in Pregnancy
Women have a higher chance to suffer RLS than men. The latest research suggested that around 25%-26% of women will experience it during pregnancy and most women definitely disappear after pregnancy. And another study did suggest that around 60% of the women who experience restless legs during pregnancy reported the symptoms again in the future pregnancy.
During pregnancy, the woman body consumes energy more than normal, and you need to get more supplements. If you do not have a balanced diet and get the supplement, your body will appear to be deficient of some minor elements, such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and so on. The deficiency of minor elements has been proven to be related to the restless legs syndrome.
10 Tips for restless legs syndrome in pregnancy
You may already try some of the recommendations that we are gonna suggest, but if you’re not, some of them are definitely worth a try.
First of all, talk to your care provider about your iron levels and magnesium levels. Most women in America have less than optimal magnesium levels. So the supplement might be helpful for you.
Second, reduce or eliminate stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes. Some people swear by magnesium sprays, lotions or gels. But most of the research shows that only a tiny amount actually gets through the skin, which in normal circumstances is really a good thing because we want the skin to be a protective barrier.
Lots of women find the body scan meditation can be quite helpful too. As by meditation you redirect your focused attention to different parts of the body. Try a spiky ball under the foot or under your calf, better still, get out of bed, stretch those muscles, that will disrupt the signals to the brain. Exercise, even some gentle yoga stretches can help. Some studies suggest that yoga can reduce the severity and stress associated with restless legs. Try a warm bath with Epsom salts before bed. Massage your legs before bedtime if you have a willing partner, ask for their help, especially in late pregnancy. Try applying a cold washcloth or an ice pack on your legs may also reduce the restless legs syndrome pregnancy.
You may see some discussions online about using tonic water, which contains quinine. But please do talk to your care provider as quinine is not recommended for pregnant women. You would have to take large doses of quinine to have an effect, but some women do report feeling better almost immediately with only a small glass. But be sure to talk to your care provider first.
So now let us talk about some of the emerging and quite interesting treatment that other women have tried. There is a new research topic about TRP, which is transient receptor potential. These are channels and they are found throughout the body. And they respond to sensations such as taste, heat, cold and pain. They can be activated by a variety of flavors and scents. So flavors can stimulate the TRP channels. And quinine is quite bitter, so maybe that is how the tonic water works. Essentially, they tell the nerves to calm down.
There are TRP channels in the mouth, throat, and stomach. And when they are stimulated, they immediately impact nerves in the spinal cord. It is a neural pathway. So the effect is really fast compared to medication that has to be processed by the body or creams that have to be absorbed into the bloodstream. So during our research, we found that some people find that a couple of sips of tonic water or a spoonful of muscle dirt or pickle juice helps in less than five minutes.
This might also be helpful if you get those leg cramps at night as well. Strong flavors like vinegar, ginger, pickle juice, hot peppers, mustard, and quinine all stimulate those TRP channels to override those nerves from firing off at 2 a.m. when you just nodded off after multiple bathroom trips.
One of the strangest recommendations you will probably hear for restless legs is to put a bar of soap at the end of your bed. So what would be the mechanism for the relief of restless legs? Is it just a placebo or something more? Some scientists believe that it is the scent that triggers the TRP channels and there is already lots of evidence that scent can reduce pain. So it is possible, and there is no side effect.
Restless legs can cause significant sleep issues and stress. So do talk to your care provider about trying some of these options. And please always keeping in mind what works for one person may not work for another, and you may need to try several different approaches. Keep trying until you find what works for you. Maybe keep a couple of packets of mustard by the bedside and a bar of soap under your sheets, unless, of course, the mustard gives you heartburn.