Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurologic disorder. It is characterized by:

  • Causes

    The cause of primary RLS is unknown. RLS may
    have some genetic component.
    In some cases, it may be caused by other conditions or certain medications. This is called secondary RLS.

    Many people with RLS also have periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD). This is a related motor disorder characterized by:

    • Involuntary, repetitive, jerking movements
    • Interrupted sleep because of periodic leg movements

  • Definition

    Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurologic disorder. It is characterized by:

    • Unpleasant sensations in the legs
    • An irresistible urge to move the legs

  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical and neurologic exam will be done. The diagnosis is based mainly on your symptoms. There is no specific test for RLS.

    Tests to check for conditions that may trigger RLS include:

    • Blood tests
    • Monitoring of leg activity during sleep

    • Study of leg muscles, such as
      electromyography (EMG)
      and
      nerve conduction studies
    Nerves of the Leg
    Leg Nerves
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  • Prevention

    There are no current guidelines to prevent RLS because the cause is unknown.

  • Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your chance of getting RLS include:

    • Family history
    • Pregnancy
    • Certain medications, such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, caffeine, theophylline, dopamine antagonists, and sedating antihistamines

    Certain chronic diseases may lead to secondary RLS. These include:

    • Peripheral neuropathy

    • Chronic
      kidney failure
    • Anemia
      or iron deficiency
    • Diabetes
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms may include:

    • Feelings of tingling, creeping, pulling, prickling, pins and needles, or pain in the legs during periods of rest or inactivity—may also occur in the arms
    • Symptoms typically get worse at night
    • A strong urge to relieve uncomfortable sensations with movement
    • Restlessness, including floor pacing, tossing and turning in bed, and rubbing the legs
    • Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep


    Symptoms may begin at any age. But, they are most common in people older than 60 years old. Symptoms usually increase in the evening and during times of rest, relaxation, or inactivity. For this reason, people with RLS generally have
    insomnia, which may be severe.

  • Treatment

    There is no cure for RLS. Treatments are aimed at relieving or reducing symptoms.