01/10/2015 13:28 BST | Updated 20/11/2017 11:26 GMT

Restless Legs Syndrome: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment Explained

We all feel the need to fidget from time to time, but for some it's a very real health problem.

Restless legs syndrome, also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a condition of the nervous system that causes an overwhelming, irresistible urge to move the legs.

It can also cause an unpleasant crawling or creeping sensation in the feet, calves, thighs and, occasionally, arms.

"The degree of severity can differ from person to person," explains Dr Helen Webberley, the dedicated GP for Oxford Online Pharmacy.

"Mild cases may be caused by lack of sleep and factors such as night time alcohol consumption and nicotine. More severe cases have been linked to the way in which the body handles dopamine, the chemical responsible for controlling muscle movement in the body."

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According to Dr Webberley, around one in 10 people are affected by restless legs syndrome at some point in their life, with women twice as likely to develop the condition than men.

"It's also more common in middle age, although the symptoms can develop at any age, including childhood," she adds.

"About one in five pregnant women will experience symptoms of restless legs in the last three months of their pregnancy, although it's not clear exactly why this is. In such cases, symptoms usually disappear after the woman has given birth."

The good news is that restless legs syndrome is fairly easy to treat.

"Lifestyle changes, such as adopting good sleep habits, avoiding caffeine and alcohol at night and exercising during the day, can help to reduce mild symptoms," says Dr Webberley.

"If symptoms are more severe, medication may help to regulate the levels of dopamine and iron in your body.

"If restless legs syndrome is caused by iron deficiency anaemia, iron supplements may be all that's needed to treat the symptoms."

While the syndrome isn’t life-threatening, addressing the underlying causes is highly recommended as "severe cases can disrupt sleep, which can trigger anxiety and depression".

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