Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a common neurological condition that is thought to affect around 10% of people in the UK. It can affect anyone at any stage in life, though women are twice as likely to develop the condition and it is more common in middle age. RLS is characterised by an overwhelming and uncontrollable urge to move the legs.

What are the symptoms?

While an uncontrollable urge to move the legs is the main symptom associated with RLS, other symptoms can include:

  • An unpleasant crawling or creeping sensation in the feet, calves, and thighs
  • Involuntary jerking of the arms and legs (periodic limb movements in sleep – PLMS)

These symptoms are often worse in the evening or at night and may range from occurring occasionally to daily. RLS symptoms can range from mild to severe and can cause significant distress and disruption to a person’s quality of life.

Cause and treatment

In the majority of cases, there is no clear cause of RLS –this is known as idiopathic or primary restless legs syndrome. However, it may run in families. There is also a connection between RLS and pregnancy, with around 1 in 5 pregnant women experiencing some symptoms of RLS in the last 3 months of pregnancy. Symptoms usually disappear after the birth of the child.

Some neurologists think that RLS may be connected how the body handles dopamine – a chemical that plays a vital role in the controlling muscle movement. However, in some cases, RLS is caused by an underlying health condition such as iron deficiency anaemia or kidney failure – this is known as secondary Restless Legs Syndrome.

Cases of RLS that are not linked to an underlying health condition may not require treatment, other than making a few lifestyle changes, such as adopting good sleep conditions (for example, following a regular bedtime ritual, sleeping regular hours, and avoiding alcohol and caffeine late at night), exercising regularly and quitting smoking.

However, in more severe cases, medication may be needed to regulate the levels of dopamine and iron in the body.

Medical Cannabis and Restless Legs Syndrome

In severe cases of RLS where traditional treatment options have failed, medical cannabis products may be considered. Some studies have found promising evidence that cannabinoids can help to reduce the symptoms of RLS. For example, a 2020 study found “a remarkable and total remission of RLS symptoms following cannabis use.”

Our specialist physicians are experienced in assessing individual cases and helping to determine whether medical cannabis could be an effective option.