Updated: Jun 30, 2020
When I was in high school, I had this horrible discomfort in my legs that drove me bonkers! At that time, I was super flexible so I blamed it on not being able to feel the stretch enough. It would be worse around my periods but would bother me daily enough that I would have to leave the classroom to stretch. I remember it was worst in my first class of the day with Ms. Drye. Sorry Ms. Drye but now I have a reason! I am sure she didn't know what to do with me. At night, I would literally feel like I had to hit my legs to get them to calm down. I never told anyone because it was just weird and hard to explain. Now that I know it was restless legs, I realize that back in the 90's they probably wouldn't have known what it was anyway. I am not sure it was even a diagnosis at that time. When I got married and went on birth control it totally resolved and I was so relieved. Once I learned about it in medical school, I learned that one cause is anemia and I probably had anemia due to my super heavy periods that whole time!
There are many causes for Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). Causes for RLS include disease that affect the nerves like diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, Parkinson's, kidney failure, and iron deficiency. Iron deficiency is common in females with heavy periods, people with stomach and intestinal problems that lead to bleeding, lack of dietary intake of iron and much more. Metformin, a commonly used medicine for diabetes and polycystic ovaries can cause deficiency in vitamin B12 which can lead to neuropathy, then potentially restless legs.
RLS may be caused by medications. I have found that statins have caused quite a bit of restless legs in my patients, possibly because Coenzyme Q 10 gets depleted when you take it. So if you really need statins, be sure to take Coenzyme Q10 up to 200 mg with something fatty to help replete that. If you haven't had a history of a heart attack or stroke, be sure that you would really benefit from taking a statin. There is increasing controversy over this because it isn't likely helpful for those without a history of heart attack or stroke, or those with very high risk factors. Do your research on that and discuss with your doctor whether the benefits outweigh the risks. Stomach medicines like Prilosec or Nexium cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies due to change in absorption of nutrition from food. It is worth working with a provider to try to get off these medicines when appropriate and replace the nutrients that have diminished. Believe it or not, there are tons of options to improve your gastrointestinal HEALTH without just suppressing acid that will improve your overall health. Some antidepressants, antipsychotics often used for depression, and antihistamines can contribute to restless legs. Birth control can deplete B6, zinc, and folate. The list goes on as to medicines causing vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Many sleep remedies that end in "PM" have antihistamines so you could be making things worse! Magnesium glycinate up to 400 mg nightly may help with restless legs and night cramps (caution in kidney disease).
Restless Legs During Pregnancy
Pregnancy! To add to the litany of issues plaguing some pregnant ladies, restless legs can top the list causing misery and lack of sleep. Exercise earlier in the day, massage your legs, consider vibrating pads underneath the legs for distraction, warm baths with epsom salts may help, get your iron levels checked as well as B12/methylmalonic acid, and RBC magnesium. Also consider drinking 2-3 ounces of tonic water before bed. Considering minerals as a cause, a safe and cheap way to add minerals is by making a Himalayan Sole. Buy Himalayan Pink Salt. Mix 1/3 pink salt to 2/3 hot water and dissolve. Take 1-2 tbsp daily as this provides all 84 trace minerals and is pretty cheap.
So glad to have figured out my affliction from high school. I am going to share this with my teachers so hopefully they forgive me ;-). I imagine we will find more causes which hopefully means we can find more solutions!