The specific causes of restless legs syndrome (RLS) are not known. Disease in the blood vessels of the legs or in the nerves in the legs that control leg movement and sensation was once thought to cause RLS, but both of these suggestions have been rejected.
RLS may be related to abnormalities in brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) that help regulate muscle movements, or to abnormalities in the part of the central nervous system that controls automatic movements. Research is still being done in these...
You have an urge to move a part of your body, usually
because of uncomfortable sensations such as tingling, "pins and needles,"
prickling, crawling, or pain. In some cases, you may not feel any unpleasant
sensations but still feel the urge to move your legs or your
The sensations and the urge to move begin or get
worse during periods of rest or inactivity, such as when you are sitting or
The sensations and the urge to move are
partially or totally relieved by movement. But relief may be temporary and only
last while you are walking, stretching, or moving.
urge to move and the sensations are worse in the evening or at night.
But some people may have severe sensations and urges to move throughout the day and night.
Other factors that may support a diagnosis include:
Having a family history (in a parent or
sibling) of restless legs syndrome.
improvement when the medicine
dopamine is used.
A sleep study called a
polysomnography may be done to help your doctor
diagnose restless legs syndrome or rule out other sleep disorders. This test
records the electrical activity of your brain, eye movements, muscle activity,
heart rate, breathing, air flow through your nose and mouth, and blood oxygen
Although this test is not essential, it provides details
of limb movement symptoms. These details may help evaluate the severity of your
symptoms. The severity ranges from people who have restless legs syndrome
occasionally, with only mild difficulty falling asleep, to those who have it
frequently, with repeated interruptions of sleep. Serious sleep problems can
greatly affect your ability to function during the day.
Common problems with diagnosing restless legs syndrome
Many cases go undiagnosed because:
Many people do not seek a doctor's help when
they have symptoms.
Most people visit a doctor during the day, when
symptoms are not present or are only mild.
Some doctors do not
recognize the condition and may believe that the symptoms are caused by other
conditions, such as insomnia, stress, muscle cramps, or arthritis.
Restless legs syndrome does occur in children but it is
hard to diagnose for the same reasons. Children often are not able to
describe their symptoms. A parent's observations of the child's behavior and
sleep may be helpful. Knowing that a parent or other close relative has
restless legs syndrome can also help the doctor make a diagnosis of restless
legs syndrome in the child.