Triggers That May Worsen RLS

October 4, 2018 Know Your Triggers A trigger is a stimulus that causes a worsening of your RLS. Certain foods, beverages, medicines, e...

October 4, 2018
Know Your Triggers

A trigger is a stimulus that causes a worsening of your RLS. Certain foods, beverages, medicines, excessive stress or exercise can be the source of a trigger. Triggers can vary from one person to another and even among members of the same family. For example, caffeine may be a trigger for one person but not another. All individuals with RLS can benefit from learning what triggers their RLS in order to avoid these substances.

Some common RLS triggers reported by individuals with RLS include:

Carbohydrates and refined sugars
Foods high in sodium
Extreme exercise
Emotional stress
Over-the-counter medications
Prescribed medications

Sleep Habits

Sleep deprivation is known to worsen RLS symptoms. Good sleep habits such as maintaining a cool, dark sleeping environment, removing electronics from the bedroom to limit exposure to blue light and adhering to a schedule of bed and wake times are key to a restful night’s sleep.


It is important to be knowledgeable about medications that are acceptable for use and those best avoided by individuals with RLS. Many prescribed and over-the-counter medications are known to aggravate RLS symptoms. The RLS Foundation Medical Alert Card lists important information about these medications on a small card that fits into your wallet so you can easily share it with your doctor, hospital and family members. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is an antihistamine commonly found in cold remedies and sleep aids; any over-the-counter medication containing diphenhydramine should be avoided. Decongestants like pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) can severely disrupt sleep for those with RLS. Contrary to popular belief, melatonin may worsen symptoms because of the serotonergic properties (serotonin regulates sleep, mood and appetite) found in the medication. St. John’s Wort, an herbal supplement believed to help with depressive symptoms, can cause a flare up of RLS symptoms in some individuals.

Drugs in the antipsychotic (haldol and seroquel), anti-nausea (phenergan and compazine) and antidepressant (mirtazapine) medication classes are often the culprit for a worsening case of RLS. You should never discontinue use of a medication without consulting your healthcare provider, the RLS Foundation’s Medical Bulletin contains suggestions for safe alternatives to these medications to share with your physician. If you have an upcoming surgery, it is helpful to alert your surgical team to which medications they should avoid so they are prepared.

Although certain medications may be hard to avoid, it is crucial to be vigilant about the ingredients in any of the medications you take. No one knows your RLS triggers better than you; not even your healthcare provider. When you are knowledgeable about your own triggers, you can avoid those substances before they worsen your RLS!

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