Pulling. Throbbing. Aching. Itching. Restlessness. These are just some of the symptoms affecting people with Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), also called Willis-Ekbom disease. Comorbid with migraine, RLS causes an uncontrollable urge to move one’s legs, usually to relieve an unpleasant sensation. Moving typically relieves the feeling temporarily, but it is not always as simple as that.
RSL can begin at any age, often worsens with age, and is associated with another condition called periodic limb movement, which causes the legs to twitch and kick. It can interrupt sleep, cause daytime drowsiness and extreme exhaustion, and negatively affect quality of life. If you live with migraine, then this probably sounds familiar to you, but for those who have both diseases the impact can be severe.
What Causes RLS?
A disease that affects more women than men , the past 20 years or so has seen a lot of research into the cause of RLS. Three main factors appear to be:
- Deficient brain concentrations of iron
- Deficient brain dopamine concentrations, and
The comorbidity of migraine and RLS has been well documented. One study evaluated the prevalence of RLS in people with low-frequency episodic, high-frequency episodic, or chronic migraine with and without aura. It found that higher migraine frequency correlates with a higher prevalence of RLS, especially among patients with aura. Another recent study evaluated the impact of RLS on clinical factors in patients with migraine, which found a significant impact on headache-related disability in patients with migraine.
There is no specific test for RLS. Physicians largely diagnose based on symptoms and blood work. Given the role dopamine and iron play, improving those levels is a prevalent strategy in treating RLS. In addition, the FDA has approved several prescriptions medications to treat RLS. These include pain medications, iron supplements, anti-seizure medications, increasing dopamine levels, opioids, and benzodiazepines.
If you think you might be suffering from RLS, seek medical attention for a diagnosis and treatment options. The good news is that if you have RLS, you might see substantial improvement by making lifestyle changes. Many of these strategies could mitigate your migraine attacks as well. These include:
- Limiting or avoiding the use of alcohol and tobacco
- Getting regular sleep and exercise
- Massaging the legs
- Taking warm baths
- Using heating pads and/or ice packs
- Using approved medical devices.
RLS is a significant comorbidity with migraine and can have a significant effect on your health and quality of life. If you are dealing with migraine and RLS, you might benefit from communicating with others in the same boat. Support is so important when dealing with these life-altering conditions.
Tell us! Do you have migraine and restless leg syndrome? Does one aggravate the other? What’s your best advice for others dealing with both conditions?