Restless legs syndrome
It feels like bubbles in your bloodstream and affects one in four pregnant women. Here’s what you need to know about RLS.
Got a jittery feeling in your pins? Find out how to deal with this common pregnancy symptom
You’re just about to drop off to sleep when it strikes – that tingling, jittery sensation in your legs that means you just can’t keep them still. This is restless legs syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, and it’s a common complaint in pregnancy. Because it’s usually worse when you’re sitting or lying down towards the end of the day, it can rob you of precious rest and sleep. “Sufferers typically experience an itching or burning feeling in their legs, almost as if something is crawling up them,” says Dr Julian Spinks. Symptoms have been likened to having Coca-Cola bubbling through your bloodstream.
“Resisting the urge to move your legs is as difficult as eating a doughnut without licking your lips,” he says.
“Movement makes the sensation disappear, but it only offers temporary relief. The problem can be extremely uncomfortable, interrupting sleep and leaving you feeling tired and washed-out.”
Although the symptoms are in your legs, the condition is thought to originate in your brain. “RLS is linked to dopamine, a neurotransmitter that sends signals between nerve cells,” explains Julian. “A relative lack of dopamine in one part of the brain fools the body into thinking there’s a problem elsewhere. People may imagine that their unborn baby is pressing on a nerve, or is affecting their circulation, but there’s no evidence that this is the case.
“The problem can affect anyone, at any age, although pregnancy seems to be a particular trigger. Theories as to why this is so include a lack of iron or folic acid, or a rise in oestrogen levels, which possibly affects the sensitivity of some brain cells to dopamine. It can occur at any stage of pregnancy, often persisting until the baby is delivered.
“As irritating as the symptoms may be, they’re harmless and won’t affect your pregnancy or your baby. They should disappear soon after the birth.”