What is Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is an uncomfortable or unpleasant sensation in the legs which causes an urge to move or massage them.    These symptoms often occur later in the afternoon or in the early evening when sitting, resting or lying in bed.  RLS can prevent people from falling asleep or staying asleep. It can lead to daytime tiredness and mood problems. There are many treatments available for this disease. Treatment options include several types of medicines as well as non-medication options.

Key Points

Restless Leg ymptoms include:

  • Feeling a strong urge to move your legs when you are resting or sitting still. You also may have a creepy-crawly, tugging, itchy or tingly sensation.
  • Many people who have RLS also kick or jerk their legs while sleeping.
  • Symptoms get better when you walk, stretch or kick.
  • They may return once you stop moving.
  • Symptoms are worse in the evening or nighttime hours.
  • Symptoms are not caused by leg cramps, muscles aches or arthritis.

General Overview

Restless legs syndrome affects about 7% of the population. About 3% of people experience moderate to severe symptoms. Symptoms of RLS can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. You may wake up and need to pace the floor to relieve symptoms. RLS may cause you to feel tired during the day. Some people with RLS also report worsening of anxiety or depression.

Researchers are trying to determine the exact cause of RLS. It may be caused by changes in certain brain chemicals, such as dopamine. RLS also may be genetic; it is more common among family members. RLS symptoms become more severe in people who have iron deficiency. There is no specific test to detect restless legs syndrome. Your doctor will review your symptoms and determine if you have the disease. Sometimes a sleep study is needed to determine if another sleep disorder is disturbing your sleep, but a sleep study is not necessary for the diagnosis of RLS. Activities such as exercise, leg massages and warm baths can help reduce mild RLS symptoms. Prescription medications can be helpful if you have more severe symptoms. Your doctor will help you decide if a medication is the best option for you. Some medications need to be taken daily at the same time of day. Others need to be taken only when symptoms bother you. Your doctor may recommend iron supplements if your iron levels are low.

Am I at Risk

Restless legs syndrome can occur at any age, but it is more common in older adults. RLS can be hereditary; about 50% of people with RLS have family members with the disease. People who are pregnant, have kidney disease, or other neurologic diseases may be at higher risk of having RLS. People with anemia or low iron levels may have more severe RLS symptoms. Some drugs used to treat depression, nausea and allergies can make RLS symptoms worse.

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