Restless Leg Syndrome Causes and Risk Factors

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a condition that causes you to feel pain or discomfort in your legs. The only thing that can temporarily relieve the discomfort is to move your legs constantly. Though the exact causes of restless leg syndrome remain unclear, researchers know that it is due to an imbalance of the chemical dopamine in the brain, which controls muscle movement in the body.


It is suspected that genes play a role in RLS, since it is common for the condition to run in families. It is estimated that nearly 50% of all people with restless leg syndrome have a family member that also suffers from the condition. There are other factors that might play into the development or worsening of the disease as well. These include:

  • Medications: There are some medications that have side effects that have been shown to worsen the symptoms of RLS, such as anti-nausea medications, antipsychotics, antidepressants, and some antihistamines.
  • Pregnancy: Many women experience the symptoms of restless leg syndrome during the third trimester of pregnancy. It is suspected that this is because of the sharp shift in hormone levels when carrying a child. However, symptoms will typically disappear completely within a month after delivery.
  • Underlying conditions: Often, restless leg syndrome is due to an underlying condition or chronic disease that can cause symptoms. If the underlying condition is able to be correctly identified and treated, then the symptoms of RLS will usually go away as well. Some common conditions that cause restless leg symptoms include: iron deficiency, Parkinson’s disease, kidney failure, diabetes, and peripheral neuropathy.

Risk Factors

Even though RLS can develop at any point in your life, even during childhood, your risk for developing the disease will increase with age. Additionally, it is also more common in women than men. There are other things that can increase your risk for developing restless leg syndrome, some that are out of your control and some that can be changed. These include:

  • Nerve damage: Some conditions can cause damage to the nerves in your hands and feet, which is also referred to as peripheral neuropathy. This nerve damage will increase your risk for developing RLS in the future. Chronic diseases such as diabetes can cause this to occur, so if you suffer from this condition, it is important to manage it as well as possible in order to avoid complications like this. Other conditions, such as alcoholism and excessive smoking can also lead to nerve damage, so avoiding these activities can help reduce your risk as well.
  • Iron deficiency: Iron deficiency can be caused by many different factors, from anemia, to heavy menstrual periods, to repeatedly donating blood. Since low levels of iron have been linked to restless leg syndrome, all of these things have the potential to lead to the symptoms of RLS.
  • Kidney failure: This is a condition that often goes hand in hand with iron deficiency. Since this can lead to other changes in your body chemistry, kidney failure can cause or worsen restless leg syndrome.