Restless legs syndrome is a common neurological disorder that can, when severe, cause fatigue, exhaustion and even sleep deprivation. Though the symptoms themselves are not always painful, the discomfort and corresponding urge toward movement makes relaxation impossible. There are various possible causes of the syndrome, from genetic to drug-related.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a condition of the neurological system. Uncomfortable feelings in the legs cause the sufferer to respond, almost uncontrollably, by shifting, shaking the legs, standing, or some other movement in order to relieve the feelings. Restless legs syndrome can be a simple irritant, or it can become painful. The worst part of the syndrome is that the feelings of discomfort, with the corresponding urge to move, become strongest when the sufferer is lying down, trying to relax, trying to sleep or otherwise attempting to remain still with relaxed muscles.
Restless legs syndrome can be a simple irritant, making it difficult to get to sleep at night, perhaps occurring irregularly or only for a short period of time. However, the syndrome can become extremely uncomfortable, even painful, and can cause sleep deprivation and exhaustion, as sufferers of severe cases are often unable to relax their muscles at all. Any sleep they get is fitful at best.
According to NINDS, about 50 percent of RLS cases have a family history of the syndrome. That high of a percentage suggests that there might be a genetic cause of RLS, though more details are still unknown.
RLS often occurs as a symptom or side effect of pregnancy, particularly in the last trimester, according to NINDS. The instance of RLS during pregnancy could be due to changing hormones, shifting weight and muscle strain, lack of sufficient nutrients, or some combination of factors. Most women who suffer from RLS during pregnancy find that the syndrome disappears within a few weeks of giving birth.
Another common cause of RLS, reports NINDS, is the use of certain medications. Some drugs used to treat nausea and some used to treat seizures may exacerbate the symptoms of RLS. Even some cold and allergy medicines might cause the symptoms to be aggravated, and switching medications can often bring relief.
NINDS reports that low iron levels and anemia may be related to the onset of RLS. Other nutritional factors also might affect the occurrence of RLS: substances such as caffeine and alcohol, according to NINDS, may trigger symptoms of restless legs syndrome or make the symptoms worse.