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If you are pregnant or have been pregnant before, you are no stranger to the many conditions that come as a part of it. One of these is the restless legs syndrome that proves to be a major hindrance in your quest of getting some much-needed rest. This article discusses what the syndrome is and what you could do about it in case you experience it.
What Is Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)?
Restless legs syndrome is the uncontrollable need to move your leg while you are sleeping or resting. You may feel a burning, itching or crawling sensation in your foot, upper leg and calf if you have RLS. It usually subsides once you move your legs, but it ends up waking you up from sleep and can even return once you’ve moved your leg.
Is It Common in Pregnancy?
Yes. Restless legs syndrome is fairly common during pregnancy with about one in every four women experiencing it.
Causes of RLS
Scientists haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact cause of RLS, but there are a few factors that many researchers believe to be the cause of the condition.
- Imbalance in dopamine, the chemical in the brain that is responsible for smooth and even muscle movements.
- Lack of iron or folic acid in the body.
- Increase in the oestrogen level in the body.
Signs and Symptoms of RLS
The symptoms of RLS largely show up as uncomfortable sensation in the legs, but they may also be experienced in other parts of the body. However, the most common signs of RLS include:
- Crawling or burning sensation in the legs.
- Itching sensation in the legs.
- Cramps in your calf muscles.
- Fidgety feeling in the legs.
- Jerking of the limbs while sleeping.
- Sleep disruption due to ache or pain.
Diagnosis of RLS
There is no test to diagnose RLS in patients. Doctors may conduct a blood test to rule out the possibility of other conditions, though. Doctors usually diagnose RLS based on the symptoms you experience. You may be asked to give a medical history and details of any medications that you have been using that may have triggered the condition. You may also be tested for iron deficiency as it is a common cause of RLS.
Treatment for RLS
If your symptoms are severe and disrupt with your sleep, your doctor may opt for the following treatment methods:
- Iron supplements: In case you have a deficiency of iron, you will be prescribed iron supplements.
- Opioid medication: Some doctors may prescribe opioid medication if you don’t respond to iron supplements. But this is only given for a short time to prevent the risk of withdrawal symptoms in babies.
- Relaxis: This is an FDA-approved device that is only available by prescription.
Usually, Mirapex and Requip are prescribed for RLS; however, treating RLS with medication during pregnancy may be a challenge as the drugs normally prescribed for RLS patients haven’t been studied on pregnant women. Since the effects of these drugs on the foetus haven’t been researched on, doctors will refrain from prescribing them to you.
Ways to Prevent Restless Leg Syndrome in Pregnancy
Although there are no ways to completely prevent restless legs syndrome during pregnancy, you can try to lower the risk of getting it by making a few lifestyle changes.
- Reduce or avoid caffeine: Pregnant women can have about 200mg of caffeine each day. Ensure that you keep your coffee and tea intake to fit this restriction. Caffeine can make the symptoms of RLS even worse and keep you awake. It is a good idea to completely forgo caffeine, including coffee, all kinds of tea, coke, chocolate, etc. If you do consume it, do so within a limit and avoid consuming it in the evening or later afternoon.
- Track your food intake: Sometimes, certain foods trigger RLS. Hence it is a good idea to keep track of what you’ve consumed on the day you experience symptoms. Avoiding these food items is recommended to prevent RLS.
- Exercise regularly: Exercising every day may help relieve RLS. But only engage in mild exercises that do not exert you too much as it can make it harder for you to sleep.
- Sleep well and on time: Establish a sleep routine and get a lot of sleep and rest. Fatigue may also trigger RLS in many women.
Can RLS Affect Your Baby?
No, RLS will not affect your baby. However, there are certain medications that are prescribed for RLS that may have an adverse effect on the baby. Always discuss the pros and cons with your healthcare practitioner and seek approval before taking any medication.
Home Remedies for RLS During Pregnancy
Here are a few simple home remedies that can be used to relieve discomfort during RLS.
- Massage your legs: If you wake up to RLS or experience the symptoms, you can massage your legs or ask your partner to massage your legs to relieve the pain. Using pain-relieving massage oils may also be beneficial.
- Temperature changes: When you start having symptoms, use a hot compress or an ice pack to relieve the pain. You can also dip your legs in warm water in the bath.
- Soak your feet: Dissolve some Epsom salt in warm water and soak your feet in it for 30 minutes. Post this, dry your feet and rub a thin layer of Vicks Vaporub on the feet.
- Eat bananas: Bananas are potassium-rich and help send nerve impulses and contract your muscles. Pregnant women are advised to include bananas in their diet.
- Take supplements: With proper consultation with your doctor, you can start taking calcium, iron or magnesium supplements to relieve RLS.
- Relaxation techniques: Try relaxation techniques like flexing your muscles before sleep. Stretch your legs or flex your ankles immediately if you experience symptoms. You can also practice meditation to calm your mind before you go to sleep.
Does RLS Go Away After Childbirth?
If you haven’t had restless legs syndrome before pregnancy, the symptoms begin to subside within four to six weeks after you have given birth.
Restless legs syndrome is surely the raw end of the pregnancy bargain. But the relief for most women is that, unless you have had a pre-existing condition of RLS, most pregnancy-induced RLS is short-lived and will subside once you give birth to your little one.
Also Read: Tiredness and Fatigue during Pregnancy