Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

What is RLS?

Restless legs syndrome is a sleep disorder. It causes unpleasant sensations in the legs, which are described as:

  • Creeping
  • Crawling
  • Tingling
  • Pulling

You usually have these sensations in the calf, but they may be felt anywhere from the thigh to the ankle. One or both of your legs may be affected. Some people may have the sensations in the arms. With RLS, you have an irresistible urge to move the affected limb when the sensations occur. Moving often briefly relieves the limb discomfort.

Sleep problems are common with RLS because of the difficulty it causes in getting to sleep. Severe daytime fatigue can also be a big problem.

What causes RLS?

The cause of RLS is still unknown. Some cases are believed to be inherited. Some cases have been linked with nerve damage in the legs due to diabetes, kidney problems, or alcoholism.

As many as 1 in 10 people in the U.S. may have RLS.

What are the symptoms of RLS?

Sensations occur when you lie down or sit for a prolonged time. This causes:

  • The need to move the legs for temporary relief of symptoms by:
    • Stretching or bending
    • Rubbing the legs
    • Tossing or turning in bed
    • Getting up and pacing
  • Worsening symptoms when lying down, especially when trying to fall asleep at night, or during other forms of inactivity, including just sitting
  • A tendency to feel the most discomfort late in the day and at night

How is RLS diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose RLS based on your signs and symptoms, a complete medical history, and a physical exam. In addition, tests, such as lab tests or a sleep study, may be done. Currently, there is not a definitive test to diagnose restless legs syndrome.