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Diagnosing Restless Legs Syndrome

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on October 14, 2021

If you have symptoms of restless legs syndrome (RLS), talk to your doctor. They’ll ask you about your family health history (for example, if you have any family members with RLS) and note symptoms like sleepiness or insomnia. They’ll ask if you have a strong urge to move your legs when you’re relaxing, especially at night. If you share a bed with someone, your doctor will want to know if you kick and move your legs a lot.

Exams and Tests

In most people with restless legs syndrome (RLS), poor sleep and daytime sleepiness are the most bothersome symptoms. Many people do not link their sleep problem with the strange sensations in their legs. If you are having these sensations, be sure to mention it to your health care provider. This provides a very important clue to what is causing you to sleep poorly.

Sleep disturbances have many different causes. Your health care provider may ask you detailed questions, including current and prior medical problems, family medical problems, medications, work history, travel history, personal habits, and your lifestyle. Your health care provider will look for signs of an underlying cause for your sleep problem.

There is no lab test or imaging study that can prove that you have RLS.

However, certain tests can help identify underlying medical conditions such as anemia and metabolic disorders (diabetes or kidney disease, for example) that may be linked to RLS:

  • You may have blood drawn to check your blood cell counts and hemoglobin, ferritin (to check your iron stores), basic organ functions, chemistry, and thyroid hormone levels.
  • Needle electromyography and nerve conduction studies may be done if your health care provider sees signs of nerve problems like neuropathy.

Polysomnography (sleep testing) may be necessary to diagnose the sleep disturbances and determine if you have periodic limb movements. This is especially important in people who continue to have significant sleep disturbances despite relief of RLS symptoms with treatment.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Restless Legs Syndrome from eMedicineHealth.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet."

National Sleep Foundation.

Knowyourrls.com.

UpToDate.

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