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Will Benadryl Trigger Restless Legs Syndrome?

Certain drugs, including Benadryl and Cipro, appear to trigger restless legs syndrome in susceptible people. Be aware of diphenhydramine!

People who experience restless legs syndrome (RLS) will go to great lengths to avoid it if they can. They describe RLS as a creepy-crawly feeling that is relieved only by moving the legs. It can be quite unbearable. This uncomfortable condition can make it difficult to relax. When RLS or the related periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) occurs overnight, sufferers and their bed partners have trouble getting a decent night’s sleep. Doctors can prescribe medications to treat RLS, but frequently they fail to warn patients about other drugs that could trigger restless legs syndrome. Some readers have learned the hard way about these medications.

Does Cipro Trigger Restless Legs Syndrome?

Q. About 20 years ago, I was hospitalized for diverticulitis and treated with Cipro IV. That night, I had dramatic and terrifying RLS (restless legs syndrome). Every single time I started to doze off, without fail, I was startled awake with RLS. It was very disturbing. Nothing they gave me could stop the RLS.

After that first experience, I’ve found that various supplements and prescriptions can trigger it. I can manage the condition but not eliminate it, using every remedy your website recommends.

I remember being asked on a medical intake form if I was allergic to anything. When I described the problem with ciprofloxacin, I was told it didn’t count. Since then, I have put down “rash” to make sure they don’t prescribe it. And I’ve extended my allergy list to all fluoroquinolone antibiotics since I found that Levaquin also caused it. Do others know about this problem?

A. You raise a fascinating question. Scientists have not conducted many studies on medicines that can trigger restless legs syndrome, also known by its medical term, Willis-Ekbom disease.

The official prescribing information for ciprofloxacin (Cipro) or levofloxacin (Levaquin) lists twitching, myoclonus (jerky muscle contractions) and hypertonia (involuntary muscle jerking) as possible side effects, along with many other extremely serious complications. Fluoroquinolone antibiotics carry a black box warning that encourages health care providers to avoid prescribing such drugs unless there is no alternative treatment.

What Drugs Might Trigger Restless Legs Syndrome?

Another reader reports that a popular OTC sleep aid triggers RLS.

Q. I never suffered before from restless legs syndrome, although it makes my daughter miserable. Last year, though, I had two episodes of RLS about a month apart. It took me a while to connect the dots, but eventually I recalled I had taken Benadryl both times right before bed to relieve hay fever symptoms. I haven’t touched the stuff since.

Does Benadryl Trigger Restless Legs Syndrome?

This is not the first time we have received such a question:

Q. The antihistamine diphenhydramine aggravates my restless legs syndrome (RLS). I have learned to avoid it and ‘PM’ pain relievers that include it.

Don’t assume your physician knows this. Several doctors I spoke with knew nothing about it. As far as I’m concerned, I’m allergic to these drugs, and that is what I tell the nurses when they ask.

A. There is little research about this link. Nevertheless, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke advises that diphenhydramine (the antihistamine in Benadryl and “PM” pain relievers) may aggravate RLS symptoms. This is especially alarming because so many people take this over-the-counter medicine at bedtime to help them sleep. It may disrupt sleep instead for those who are susceptible to RLS.

Many other medications can also trigger these uncomfortable sensations. Antidepressants, antipsychotics and anticonvulsants can intensify this condition. Readers report that stopping some medicines, like aripiprazole (Abilify) or tramadol can also initiate symptoms.

Soap for Restless Legs Syndrome:

For those whose RLS does not appear to be set off by a medication they can avoid, we suggest soap under the bottom sheet. It sounds crazy, but some people who have tried this remedy to ward off nocturnal leg cramps have found that it also eases restless legs syndrome.

Barbara reported:

“I had suffered with RLS for years on and off. I’d go a few weeks or months without symptoms but it always came back and lasted days or weeks. When it returned, it was like torture. I definitely knew I wanted no part of a prescription drug for it, so I tried creams, herbal supplements etc. Nothing worked. A friend told me about the bar of soap under the sheet and I tried it. It has been several months and NO SYMPTOMS at all. I didn’t even unwrap it!!!”

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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