Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a condition in which you have an uncontrollable urge to move your legs, usually due to leg discomfort. It typically happens in the evenings or nights while you're sitting or lying down. Moving eases the unpleasant feeling temporarily.

Restless legs syndrome can begin at any age and generally worsens as you age. It can disrupt sleep — leading to daytime drowsiness — and make traveling difficult.

Simple self-care steps and lifestyle changes may help you. Medications also help many people with restless legs syndrome.

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) Symptoms

The compelling desire to move is what gives restless legs syndrome its name. Common characteristics of RLS signs and symptoms include:

  • Sensation starts after being at rest. The sensation typically begins after you've been lying down or sitting for an extended time, such as in a car, airplane or movie theater.
  • Relief by movement. The sensation of RLS lessens with movement, such as stretching, jiggling your legs, pacing or walking.
  • Worsening of symptoms in the evening. Symptoms occur mainly at night.
  • Nighttime leg twitching. RLS may be associated with another, more common condition called periodic limb movement of sleep, which causes your legs to twitch and kick, possibly throughout the night, while you sleep.

People typically describe restless legs syndrome symptoms as abnormal, unpleasant sensations in their legs or feet, usually on both sides of the body. Less commonly, the sensations affect the arms.

Causes

Often, there's no known cause for restless legs syndrome. Researchers suspect the condition may be due to an imbalance of the brain chemical dopamine, which sends messages to control muscle movement.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will take your medical history and ask for a description of your symptoms. A diagnosis of RLS is based on the following criteria, established by the International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group:

  • You have a strong, often irresistible urge to move your legs, usually accompanied by uncomfortable sensations typically described as crawling, creeping, cramping, tingling or pulling.
  • Your symptoms start or get worse when you're resting, such as sitting or lying down.
  • Your symptoms are partially or temporarily relieved by activity, such as walking or stretching.
  • Your symptoms are worse at night.
  • Symptoms can't be explained solely by another medical or behavioral condition.

Your doctor may conduct a physical and a neurological exam. Blood tests, particularly for iron deficiency, may be ordered to exclude other possible causes for your symptoms.

In addition, your doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist. This may involve an overnight stay at a sleep clinic, like Torrance Memorial Sleep Disorders Center, where specialist can study your sleep if another sleep disorder such as sleep apnea is suspected. However, a diagnosis of RLS usually doesn't require a sleep study.

Treatments

Sometimes, treating an underlying condition, such as iron deficiency, greatly relieves symptoms of restless legs syndrome. Correcting an iron deficiency may involve taking iron supplements. However, take iron supplements only with medical supervision and after your doctor has checked your blood-iron level.

If you have RLS without an associated condition, treatment focuses on lifestyle changes, and if those aren't effective, medications.

You Can Sleep Better!

Talk to your healthcare provider if you think you many have a sleep disorder like Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). If you have additional questions or need information please call Torrance Memorial Sleep Disorders Center to assist you, 310-517-4617.