Facts About Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)
Common Characteristics of Restless Legs Syndrome
Some Common Symptoms
of RLS Include:
- Unpleasant sensations in the legs (sometimes the arms as well), often described as creeping, crawling, tingling, pulling, or painful;
- Leg sensations are relieved by walking, stretching, knee bends, massage, or hot or cold baths;
- Leg discomfort occurs when lying down or sitting for prolonged periods of time;
- The symptoms are worse in the evening and during the night.
Other Possible Characteristics Include:
- Involuntary leg (and occasionally arm) movements while asleep;
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep;
- Sleepiness or fatigue during the daytime;
- Cause of the leg discomfort not detected by medical tests;
- Family members with similar symptoms.
What Causes It?
Although the cause is unknown in most cases, certain factors may be associated with RLS:
- Family history. RLS is known to run in some families -- parents may pass the condition on to their children.
Pregnancy. Some women experience RLS during pregnancy, especially in the last months. The symptoms usually disappear after delivery.
- Low iron levels or anemia. Persons with these conditions may be prone to developing RLS. The symptoms may improve once the iron level or anemia is corrected.
- Chronic diseases. Kidney failure quite often leads to RLS. Other chronic diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and peripheral neuropathy may also be associated with RLS.
Caffeine intake. Decreasing caffeine consumption may improve symptoms.
Who Gets RLS?
RLS occurs in both sexes. Symptoms can begin any time, but are usually more common and more severe among older people. Young people who experience symptoms of RLS are sometimes thought to have "growing pains" or may be considered "hyperactive" because they cannot easily sit still in school.
How Is It Diagnosed?
There is no laboratory test that can make a diagnosis of RLS and, when someone with RLS goes to see a doctor, there is usually nothing abnormal the doctor can see or detect on examination. Diagnosis therefore depends on what a person describes to the doctor. The history usually includes a description of the typical leg sensations that lead to an urge to move the legs or walk. These sensations are noted to worsen when the legs are at rest, for example, when sitting or lying down and during the evening and night. The person with RLS may complain about trouble sleeping or daytime sleepiness. In some cases, the bed partner will complain about the person's leg movements and jerking during the night.
To help make a diagnosis, the doctor may ask about all current and past medical problems, family history, and current medications. A complete physical and neurological exam may help identify other conditions that may be associated with RLS, such as nerve damage (neuropathy or a pinched nerve) or abnormalities in the blood vessels. Basic laboratory tests may be done to assess general health and to rule out anemia. Further studies depend on initial findings. In some cases, a doctor may suggest an overnight sleep study to determine whether PLMS or other sleep problems are present. In most people with RLS, no new medical problem will be discovered during the physical exam or on any tests, except the sleep study, which will detect PLMS if present.