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Pregnancy Health A-Z: Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless Leg Syndrome in pregnancy

Feel an uncontrollable urge to move your legs to relieve a tingling or burning sensations? It could be restless legs syndrome – here’s how to ease it

If you can’t sleep or you’ve woken up in the night feeling like you’ve got creepy crawlies running up and down your legs, you could have restless legs syndrome. ‘It can appear at any time during pregnancy but is more common during the second and third trimesters,’ says midwife Denyse Kirkby, author of My Mini Midwife (£8.99, Vie).

‘The condition will affect about 25% of women at some point during their pregnancy.’ For some of these women it will be a regular occurrence, for others only an occasional bother.

What is pregnancy restless legs syndrome?

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) in pregnancy can take several different forms, just as it can when it affects people who are not pregnant.

RLS is usually irritating rather than harmful, however it can be a symptom of varicose veins, or more serious conditions such as those linked to liver and kidney problems or blood clots, so tell your midwife or GP if you experience what you think may be RLS so they can investigate further.

What causes pregnancy restless legs syndrome?

Certain things will make a woman more likely to suffer with RLS in pregnancy.

‘These can include being overweight or smoking as well as pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure,’ says Denyse. ‘Anaemia or poorly controlled asthma has also been linked with RLS so these will be checked by your midwife, GP or other maternity care professional and treated with medication if necessary.’

Some medications (such as antidepressants and blood pressure medications) can cause RLS during pregnancy even if they cause that side effect when you’re not pregnant though all your medications should be reviewed by your GP as soon as you discover that you’re pregnant.

Sometimes you can still get RLS without any of these health issues and it’s not known exactly why this is, but it’s thought it could be linked to hormone changes in pregnancy or even genetics.

What are the symptoms of restless legs syndrome?

‘In pregnancy it most commonly presents as a crawling sensation making you move your legs, rub them or shake them in an attempt to get rid of the feeling, or as painful cramps in your calf muscles (usually at night),’ says Denyse.

These symptoms can appear at any time of day when you’ve been in one position for a long period of time such as sitting or standing at work. ‘But the vast majority of women complain about it happening at night while they sleep,’ says Denyse. ‘Sometimes the pain of the cramping calf muscles can wake you from a deep sleep.’

What is the treatment for restless legs syndrome?

There is no medication to treat the symptoms of RLS during pregnancy. ‘If you’ve got cramp, you need to stretch your calf muscle to ease the pain, so stand up and push your foot flat so it’s not arched,’ says Denyse. Try flexing your leg and ankle until the pain has eased. ‘Gentle massaging with leg cream may relieve the itchy sensation for some women,’ says Denyse. We like Burts Bees Mama Bee Leg and Foot Crème, £12.99.

If you already suffer from RLS before you get pregnant, think about making preventative measures to stop it becoming worse - lose weight, quit smoking, take up a form of relaxing exercise such as yoga or tai chi. Once pregnant, avoid sitting or standing for extended periods, and if you are on a long journey, get up and walk around (if on a plane or train) at least hourly,’ says Denyse. ‘If you are standing or sitting at work shift position ever 20 minutes, walk to the loo, make a drink, stand or sit (whichever is opposite to the position before).’ At night try to ensure that you are relaxed and comfortably warm.

Restless legs syndrome usually disappears completely within four to six weeks of giving birth if it’s a condition you didn’t have before you got pregnant.

Did you have restless leg syndrome? How did you help ease the symptoms? Let us know in the comments box below.

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