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The Link Between an Iron Deficiency and Restless Legs Syndrome

The Link Between an Iron Deficiency and Restless Legs Syndrome

For decades, researchers have sought to understand what causes restless legs syndrome (RLS). They’ve made significant progress, although a precise cause has yet to be pinpointed. Certain factors heighten your likelihood of dealing with RLS, including your genetic makeup, your dopamine levels, and your iron levels.  

As restless legs specialists serving northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio, our providers at Vascular & Interventional Associates have extensive experience treating RLS. Through the years, we’ve seen how closely iron deficiency and restless legs are linked. In fact, when patients come to us with RLS, we often order blood tests to check their iron levels.

Here’s a closer look at this known driver of restless legs syndrome.

How iron levels affect RLS

Early research indicated a link between iron levels and restless legs syndrome, but many studies looked solely at people’s peripheral iron levels. They found that only a relatively small percentage —  about 15% — had below-normal levels of iron in their blood serum.

That perplexed some researchers because many patients with RLS responded well to iron supplementation, even when traditional iron level tests showed that they had normal iron levels.

That led to a closer study. When scientists measured iron differently — specifically, they checked for iron levels in the brain and looked at serum ferritin levels — they discovered that many RLS patients had low iron in these key areas, even if their general iron level tests came back normal. By using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at iron in targeted areas of the brain, they increasingly confirmed a correlation between low iron and RLS. 

To further confirm this hypothesis, they noticed that women who deal with RLS during pregnancy often had low iron levels, too. In other words, what they had previously identified as a cause of RLS — pregnancy — likely is an effect of the iron deficiency that often accompanies carrying a child.

Treating iron deficiency to soothe RLS

Decades of research point to a relatively simple treatment for RLS: iron supplementation. That doesn’t mean you should go to the store and buy iron for at-home treatment, though. Too much iron can be toxic.  

Here at Vascular & Interventional Associates, we apply our specialized diagnostic tools and extensive expertise to determine if your RLS is likely to respond to iron supplementation. If so, we identify the right dose for you to take safely. We can also pair that with other treatments and lifestyle changes to help you experience more significant relief more quickly. 

Ultimately, while researchers are still exploring RLS, the evidence collected so far points to iron deficiency as a significant contributor to restless legs syndrome. If you want to find out if iron could be the solution for you, call our office in Crestview Hills, Kentucky, or request an appointment online today.

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