Restless Legs

People with restless legs syndrome have an unpleasant feeling or sensation in their legs when they lie down to sleep.

Restless Legs

What is restless legs syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a disorder related to sensation and movement. People with restless legs syndrome have an unpleasant feeling or sensation in their legs when they lie down to sleep. Most people also have a very strong urge to move their legs, and moving the legs sometimes makes them feel better. But all this movement makes it hard or impossible to get enough sleep.

When you don’t get enough sleep, you may start to have problems getting things done during the day because you're so tired. You may also be sleepy or have trouble concentrating. So, it’s important to see your doctor and get help to manage your symptoms.

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What causes restless legs syndrome?

Usually there isn't a clear reason for restless legs. The problem often runs in families. Sometimes there is a clear cause, like not getting enough iron. If that’s the case, treating the cause may solve the problem.

Women sometimes get restless legs while they are pregnant. The problem usually goes away after the baby is born.

Other problems that are sometimes linked to restless legs syndrome include kidney failure, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, nerve damage, anemia, and Parkinson's disease. But most people who seek treatment do not have any of these other problems.

What are the symptoms?

Restless legs syndrome makes you feel like you must move your legs. These feelings are often described as tingling, "pins and needles," prickling, pulling, or crawling.

Moving your legs will usually make your legs feel better, at least for a short time. This problem usually happens at night when you are trying to relax or go to sleep.

After you fall asleep, your legs may begin to jerk or move. These movements are called periodic limb movements. They can wake you from sleep, which adds to your being overtired. Although periodic limb movement is considered a separate condition, it often happens to people who have restless legs syndrome.

How is restless legs syndrome diagnosed?

One of the hardest parts of having restless legs syndrome is getting to the diagnosis. Often doctors don’t ask about sleep or don’t ask about the symptoms of restless legs. If you're not sleeping well, or if you think you may have restless legs syndrome, tell your doctor.

Your doctor will talk with you about your symptoms to make sure that the feelings in your legs you describe are typical of restless legs syndrome and not caused by some other problem.

You may have blood tests to rule out other problems that could be causing your symptoms. In some cases, the doctor may order tests of your nerves to be sure there is no nerve damage. Your doctor may also order a sleep study called a polysomnography. This test records how often your legs jerk or move while you sleep.

How is it treated?

If your symptoms are mild, a few lifestyle changes may be enough to control your symptoms. Some changes that may help:

  • Avoid tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine.
  • Keep your bedroom cool, quiet, and comfortable, and use it only for sleeping, not for watching TV.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Massage the leg or the arm, or use heat or ice packs.

When symptoms are more severe, medicines may help control your leg movements and help you sleep. There are different types of medicine, and you may have to try a few to find the one that works best.