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Restless Leg Syndrome or Something Different? Find Out What's Behind Your Child's Twitchy Legs

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Restless Leg Syndrome or Something Different? Find Out What's Behind Your Child's Twitchy Legs

Apr 01, 2015

Many people self-diagnose restless leg syndrome, but it comes with a set of specific symptoms and is actually much less common than you’d think. Dr. Cindy Gellner gives us the facts on restless leg syndrome and what else could be behind your child’s twitchy legs. Find out what these symptoms are so you can figure out whether or not your child is suffering from this disorder.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Gellner: Many parents ask if their child has restless leg syndrome. What is it really, and what can you do about it? Today on The Scope, I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner, and that's what we are going to discuss.

Announcer: Medical news and research from University of Utah physicians and specialists you can use for happier and healthier life. You are listening to The Scope.

Dr. Gellner: So restless leg syndrome in kids is still a new disorder, pretty much in pediatrics. It's been controversial in the past, but research is supporting it more, and more in kids. Similar to the adult version of the disorder, restless leg syndrome in children will cause them to experience uncomfortable sensations in their legs during times when resting or sitting still for any period of time is required.

It feels like creepy crawly things on your legs, or tingly or painful, and some parents will interpret this as growing pains. And often it could be growing pains, or it happens around the same time as a child is growing, making the diagnosis even harder. Growing pains are much more common than restless leg syndrome.


There is no definitive test for restless leg syndrome, so a diagnosis is made based on the description of the symptoms. Now, most pediatricians aren't going to be able to tell you if your child has restless leg syndrome, and most of the time the diagnosis does come from a sleep center where your child has been evaluated during their sleep period, or from a neurologist.

What are the most common symptoms of restless leg syndrome? Well, in order to relieve the discomfort a child will have this overwhelming urge to walk, run, stretch their legs, wiggle their legs. A child might have a longer than normal time to fall asleep, and may toss and turn throughout the night.

Other common symptoms of a child suffering from restless leg syndrome include leg discomfort, leg movements, rubbing their legs, not being able to sleep because their legs are bothering them, bed time behavior problems like resistance issues or constantly having the wiggles and you can't get them to settle down in bed. They are tired during the day because they are not sleeping well because they are constantly running during their sleep, and sometimes they have ADHD symptoms. Restless leg syndrome is much more common in children with ADHD


So when should you ask your pediatrician about restless leg syndrome? And when would you consider having your child evaluated by a sleep center or a neurologist? So if your child is experiencing the symptoms that we just mentioned, especially if it's causing behavioral or sleep problems over a long period of time, then you should ask your pediatrician about this.


Poor sleep during childhood can lead to other health problems down the road. So you want to make sure that it is addressed if your child has it. A sleep center will be able to monitor your child in an overnight exam, and help determine if your child has restless leg syndrome or another type of sleep disorder.


The treatment for restless leg syndrome depends on what's actually causing it. If it's ADHD, treating the ADHD will help. There are some studies that show that iron deficiency can contribute to restless leg syndrome. Sometimes there are other sleep disorders that are going on as well and that's where the sleep center comes in as well.


Medication may be considered as a treatment for children who have a significant sleep disruption as a result of restless sleep syndrome, and that's where a sleep specialist or neurologist can help. With regards to the iron deficiency, no studies have shown that adding iron to the diet of a child without iron deficiency actually helps. Most children do not have iron deficiency because of so many fortified foods. But many children who are very picky eaters may have it, and your doctor can do a simple blood test to determine if your child has iron deficiency anemia, and help you treat it if that's the cause.


So if your child is constantly wiggling around in bed, or says that it feels like bugs are crawling on their legs and they just can't keep their legs still when they are trying to lay down, and calm down, and get ready to go to sleep, it would be a good idea to talk to your child's pediatrician to see, is this possibly what's going on? And if so, your pediatrician can come up with a plan specific for your child.


Announcer: We’re your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope, the University of Utah Health and Sciences Radio.