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Drugs That Cause Restless Leg Syndrome

By Marcia Veach ; Updated August 14, 2017

Restless legs syndrome, or RLS, is the term given to a medical condition whereby people have crawly, tingly or pulling sensations in their legs, or an overwhelming urge to move their legs. The sensations usually occur during periods of inactivity, such as when a person has been sitting at a desk for a while or at night after lying down. While the exact cause of RLS is still unknown, it sometimes runs in families, so some researchers are seeking a genetic link. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute points to research indicating that iron deficiency or the brain’s inability to make good use of this essential mineral is a precipitating factor in the disease. Some drugs are also considered culprits in bringing on the symptoms of RLS.

Prescription Drugs

While the cause of primary RLS is unknown, a variety of prescription medicines are associated with increased complaints about the symptoms of the disease. According to WeMove.org, these prescription drugs include such antinausea drugs as Compazine and Reglan, anti-seizure medicines such as phenytoin, and some antipsychotic drugs or tranquilizers, such as haloperidol. While some types of antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, occasionally appear to lessen the symptoms of RLS, says WeMove.org, they are more likely to aggravate them.

Over-the-Counter Drugs

Over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines may also bring on restless legs syndrome. In a 2008 Johns Hopkins University study reported in Medical News Today, researchers discovered that a main component of allergy medicine, diphenhydramine, made RLS symptoms three to four times worse in people who were known to have the disease. The researchers found that people who have RLS have more receptors in their brains for this type of antihistamine, which affects their nervous system and sleep-wake cycle.

Other Substances

While not medications, certain substances, such as caffeine and alcohol, also tend to worsen the symptoms of RLS, according to the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation. The Foundation recommends avoidance of coffee, tea, soft drinks, chocolate and alcohol, especially later in the day, when it’s more likely that they won’t have been eliminated from the body before bedtime.

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