10 Myths About Living With Restless Legs Syndrome

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According to the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation, it’s estimated that seven to eight percent of the U.S. population lives with RLS (also known as Willis-Ekbom disease). This makes the disease even more prevalent than type 2 diabetes — but many myths and misinformation surround the condition. Here are 10 myths about living with RLS.


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Myth #1: RLS symptoms occur during sleep

The creepy-crawly and tingly sensations association with RLS tend to occur in the evening — and this can make it harder to fall asleep. However, RLS does not occur during sleep. If your limbs move during sleep you may be living with periodic limb movement syndrome (PLMS) or periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD).


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Myth #2: RLS causes involuntary limb movements

RLS creates an almost overwhelming urge to move the affected limbs — however, these movements are always voluntary. Moving or massaging the limbs and going for a walk offer temporary symptom relief and this is why individuals with RLS often struggle to stay still.


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Myth #3: RLS is all in your mind

RLS is a real condition. Although some people believe that RLS was invented by the pharmaceutical industry, these individuals are in the minority. RLS is a recognized neurological disorder and should be taken seriously.


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Myth #4: RLS only affects the legs

Although the symptoms of RLS are typically felt in the legs, they can also be felt in other limbs (such as the arms) and in other areas of the body. The spread of symptoms becomes more likely the longer you live with the condition.


Myth #5: RLS diagnosis requires a sleep study

Although RLS can make it very difficult to fall asleep, an overnight sleep study is not required in order to receive a diagnosis. To be diagnosed with RLS you simply need to experience uncomfortable sensations and an urge to move the legs which becomes worse when inactive but is temporarily relieved by movement (and which cannot be explained by any other condition).


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Myth #6: RLS is a sign of Parkinson's disease

If you have Parkinson’s disease, you have an increased likelihood of developing RLS but no conclusive evidence exists to suggest that RLS is a symptom of other neurological diseases. The myth that RLS is a sign of Parkinson’s may be explained by the fact that RLS and Parkinson’s are often treated with similar drugs (dopamine agonists).


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Myth #7: Drugs are the only treatment for RLS

Although drugs such as pramipexole (Mirapex) and ropinirole (Requip) have proven to be effective at treating RLS, lifestyle changes such as cutting back on alcohol and getting regular exercise can also help relieve symptoms.


Myth #8: The presence of RLS means you have an iron deficiency

RLS is more common among individuals with low iron levels (this is one reason why RLS is more common during pregnancy) — but having RLS doesn’t mean you are definitely deficient in iron. The only way to know if you have an iron deficiency is to get a blood test.


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Myth #9: RLS can be cured

RLS can be treated, but it cannot be cured. Medication and lifestyle changes (such as reducing caffeine consumption and relaxation techniques) can help alleviate symptoms and RLS can even go into remission for a few days, weeks, months, or even years — but symptoms will usually reappear at some point. RLS symptoms may also get worse as you get older.


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Myth #10: RLS is a minor annoyance, not a significant condition

Although many people can live with mild RLS symptoms that may not even need to be treated, RLS can have a serious effect on health, well-being, and quality of life. Studies have found that RLS can increase pain, reduce physical function, make it harder to socialize, and impair mental health. RLS can, therefore, be much more than an inconvenience.