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Medication for Restless Legs Syndrome

When people with restless legs syndrome have clearly defined symptoms that cannot be controlled by lifestyle changes, medication is needed. Specific types of restless legs syndrome medications include dopaminergics, narcotics, benzodiazepines, and anticonvulsants.

An Introduction to Medication for Restless Legs Syndrome

There is no cure for restless legs syndrome (RLS). Therefore, treatment is focused on relieving symptoms, increasing the amount and quality of sleep, and treating or correcting any underlying condition that may be causing restless legs syndrome.

(Click Restless Legs Syndrome Causes for more information.)
For people with mild cases of RLS, lifestyle changes may be the only treatment that is needed. However, for some people with more severe forms of RLS, medication will be needed. Healthcare providers prescribe medication for people with clearly defined RLS symptoms that cannot be controlled by lifestyle changes.
Specific types of medication for restless legs syndrome include:
  • Dopaminergics
  • Narcotics
  • Benzodiazepines (central nervous system depressants)
  • Anticonvulsants.
Dopaminergic agents, which are mainly used to treat Parkinson's disease, have been shown to reduce RLS symptoms and are considered the initial treatment for restless legs syndrome. Even though these medications help reduce RLS symptoms, RLS is not a form of Parkinson's disease.
Levodopa is usually the first medication that is tried for restless legs syndrome, and it is best used to treat mild cases of RLS. Good short-term results with levodopa have been reported, although most patients eventually will develop augmentation, meaning that symptoms are reduced at night but begin to develop earlier in the day than usual.
Dopamine agonists, such as pergolide, pramipexole, and ropinirole, are also used as medication for restless legs syndrome. These medications are used to treat mild cases of RLS if levodopa stops working; they are less likely to cause augmentation. In addition, ropinirole (Requip®) is the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drug to treat moderate to severe RLS.
(Click Requip and Restless Legs Syndrome for more information on this treatment for restless legs syndrome.)
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