Your RLS Treatment Plan

Choosing the right treatment for Restless Legs Syndrome

Preparing for a discussion with your doctor


Types of doctors who treat RLS

Your primary care doctor is likely the first person you go to see when you have questions about your health. But if your doctor recommends a treatment plan for your Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) symptoms, and they don’t get better—or they even get worse—your doctor may refer you to a specialist who diagnoses and treats RLS.

Neurologist. If your symptoms are not under control on your current treatment plan, your primary care doctor may refer you to a doctor who specializes in treating nervous system disorders.

Sleep medicine doctor. If you suffer from sleep disturbances with your RLS, your primary care doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist.

Pain medicine doctor. If your RLS discomfort is severe, your primary care doctor may refer you to a pain specialist.

If you develop augmentation, neurologist Daniel Lee, MD, recommends that you discuss your treatment plan with your regular doctor and consider a consultation with a neurologist or sleep specialist.

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Treatment options for RLS

RLS specialist Dr Lee talks about choosing the right
medication for each patient

As you’re probably well aware, there is not yet a cure for RLS, but several medications have been proven to manage its symptoms. Neurologist Daniel Lee, MD, says the treatment for RLS should be tailored to the individual and weigh the risks and benefits to each person.

When working with you to develop a treatment plan, your doctor may try a few different medications to find the one that best manages your symptoms. Your doctor will also consider how well you tolerate a medication.

Augmentation is a potential long-term side effect of RLS treatment. If you’re experiencing augmentation, your doctor will likely make changes to your treatment plan. This may include reducing your dose or prescribing you a different medication. This can be a difficult transition. Be sure to follow your doctor’s recommendations, and if you’re having trouble sticking with the plan, tell your doctor.

Do not stop taking your medicine or change your dose without talking to your doctor.

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Long-term side effects of RLS treatment

Augmentation isn’t the only potential long-term side effect of RLS treatment. Another potential long-term side effect is compulsive behavior (also called impulse control disorder).1

Some of the behaviors that RLS patients treated with some medications have developed include compulsive gambling and shopping —and the results can be devastating.1

If you notice any signs that you’re developing a compulsive behavior, talk with your doctor. Your doctor will adjust your treatment plan as needed. Do not stop taking your medicine without talking to your doctor.

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Preparing for your RLS doctor appointments

Theresa says, when talking to your doctor,
it’s the little things that matter

Keeping a symptom diary can help you and your doctor get a clearer picture of your RLS and how your treatment plan is working. A diary can help identify patterns in your RLS and any habits or activities that seem to worsen or improve your symptoms.

Consider tracking the following details:

  • What time you go to bed and what time you wake up
  • How many times you awake during the night and whether you get up
  • What time your RLS symptoms begin, and if they change or become more intense
  • What kind of exercise you do, or if you do none
  • If and what time you consume caffeine or alcohol
  • Any medicines or supplements you take

Your diary is also a good place to keep notes about anything you want to ask your doctor at your next appointment. Taking the time to write down your questions before your appointment can help you organize your thoughts and make sure you get the answers you need before you leave your doctor’s office.

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Other ways to help manage your RLS

Leeda talks about finding the right
treatment plan for her RLS

An RLS treatment plan is more than just a pill. In addition to proper medication and regular follow-up visits, your doctor may recommend changes to your diet, sleep habits, or other lifestyle routines. You can also try these tips on your own.

Avoid caffeine. It’s no secret that caffeine can make you jittery and affect your sleep, but look out for other sources besides the obvious coffee and sodas, like green tea and chocolate. In general, it’s a good idea to practice moderation and eat a healthy and balanced diet.

Sleep well. Keeping a regular schedule can go a long way toward helping you get a good night’s sleep. Try to go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning. Keep your room cool, dark, quiet, and comfortable.

Exercise regularly. Moderate physical activity can help manage symptoms of RLS and help you sleep. Consider walking, swimming, yoga, and other low-impact activities. When you exercise is also important. You may need to experiment with what time of day works best for you.

Other coping methods may include taking hot or cold baths, practicing relaxation techniques, stretching, massage, or acupressure. Finding ways to distract yourself and engage your mind when you need to sit for a period of time (for example, while traveling) or scheduling sedentary activities when symptoms are less bothersome (like in the morning) can also help you cope.

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Reference:

  • Cornelius JR, Tippmann-Peikert M, Slocumb NL, Frerichs CF, Silber MH. Impulse control disorders with the use of dopaminergic agents in restless legs syndrome: a case-control study. SLEEP. 2010;33(1):81-87.