Several women sitting at the doctor's office. Some have restless leg syndrome.

Pregnancy and restless leg syndrome is more common than you think.

You’ve probably heard of restless leg syndrome (RLS) before. It’s a condition where you feel an uncontrollable need to move your leg. This can be due to unpleasantness or even a feeling of being uncomfortable. While this disorder can seem like a minor inconvenience, it can have impactful consequences. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) even classifies restless leg syndrome as an essential sleeping disorder.

Why Is Restless Leg Syndrome Classified as a Key Sleeping Disorder?

The symptoms of RLS can infer with sleep. The uncontrollable urge to move your legs can manifest from feelings of itchiness, pain, or discomfort. According to the CDC:

“This [RLS] often causes difficulty initiating sleep and is relieved by movement of the leg, such as walking or kicking. Abnormalities in the neurotransmitter dopamine have often been associated with RLS. Healthcare providers often combine a medication to help correct the underlying dopamine abnormality along with a medicine to promote sleep continuity in the treatment of RLS.”

There are several factors that lead to RLS, including:

  • Iron Deficiency
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Kidney Failure
  • Diabetes
  • Peripheral Neuropathy
  • Medications
  • Pregnancy

Recently, a study even looked into the link between RLS and pregnant women to find out the effect it has on one’s quality of sleep. The researchers discovered that the disorder is strongly associated with poor sleep quality, excessive daytime sleepiness, and poor daytime function in pregnant women.

RLS and Pregnant Women

It’s common for women in their third trimester to have restless sleep syndrome with moderate to severe symptoms. In fact, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine found this to be the case with 36 percent of pregnant women. These women were also twice as likely to experience symptoms of sleep-wake disturbances and daytime sleepiness.

“While we expected that RLS would be relatively common in pregnant women, we were surprised to observe just how many had a severe form,” said lead author Galit Levi Dunietz, Ph.D., a T32 post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center in Ann Arbor. “These women experienced RLS symptoms at least four times per week.”

The study looked at 1,563 pregnant women with an average age of 30 years, all in their third trimester. The researchers monitored their symptoms and gave them a sleep questionnaire to determine their status. Thankfully, they also determined that RLS had no adverse effect on the delivery process. However, researchers are afraid that doctors and other health care providers will dismiss sleep symptoms simply because women are pregnant.

“These sleep-wake disturbances are considered common symptoms in pregnancy and are frequently attributed to physiological changes that occur in normal pregnancy, but our data suggest that RLS is an additional contributor to these symptoms,” said Dunietz.

RLS usually goes away once pregnancy is over. The problem is dealing with the disorder during pregnancy. Some suggest that lifestyle changes, decreasing the use of caffeine, and regular exercise might help. Other methods for treating restless leg syndrome include leg massages, good sleeping habits, and hot baths. If you feel you have restless leg syndrome, talk to an otolaryngologist today.