• Restless Legs Syndrome



    Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder. It is characterized by:
    • Unpleasant sensations in the legs
    • An irresistible urge to move the legs


    The cause of primary RLS is unknown. RLS may have some genetic components. In some cases, it may be caused by other conditions or certain medications. This is called secondary RLS.
    Many people with RLS also have periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD). This is a related motor disorder characterized by:
    • Involuntary, repetitive, jerking movements
    • Interrupted sleep because of periodic leg movements

    Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your chance of getting RLS include:
    • Family history
    • Pregnancy
    • Certain medications, such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, caffeine, theophylline, dopamine antagonists, and sedating antihistamines
    Certain chronic diseases may lead to secondary RLS. These include:


    Symptoms may include:
    • Feelings of tingling, creeping, pulling, prickling, pins and needles, or pain in the legs during periods of rest or inactivity—may also occur in the arms
    • Symptoms typically get worse at night
    • A strong urge to relieve uncomfortable sensations with movement
    • Restlessness, including floor pacing, tossing and turning in bed, and rubbing the legs
    • Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
    Symptoms may begin at any age, but they are most common in people older than 60 years old. Symptoms usually increase in the evening and during times of rest, relaxation, or inactivity. For this reason, people with RLS generally have insomnia, which may be severe.


    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical and neurological exam will be done. The diagnosis is based mainly on your symptoms. There is no specific test for RLS.
    Tests to check for conditions that may trigger RLS include:
    Nerves of the Leg
    Leg Nerves
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


    There is no cure for RLS. Treatments are aimed at relieving or reducing symptoms.

    Treatment for Mild Cases of RLS

    • Massage your legs.
    • Use a heating pad or ice pack.
    • Take a hot bath.
    • Avoid using tobacco, alcohol, or caffeine.
    • Follow a sleep routine.
    • Begin a safe exercise program with the advice of your doctor.
    • Avoid the use of medications that may worsen RLS.

    Treatment for Conditions That May Trigger RLS

    Effective treatment of conditions that may trigger RLS can ease or resolve your symptoms:

    Treatment for More Severe Cases of RLS

    Dopamine agonists are the only drugs that are FDA approved to treat restless leg syndrome. They are often considered the most effective type of medication for this condition.
    Other medications may be used to help control symptoms of restless leg syndrome. Some medication options include clonidine, anticonvulsants, and opioids. Your doctor will select the medication based on your symptoms and medical history.


    There are no current guidelines to prevent RLS because the cause is unknown.


    National Sleep Foundation http://www.sleepfoundation.org

    Willis-Ekbom Disease Foundation http://www.rls.org


    Canadian Sleep Society http://www.css-scs.ca

    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca


    Cui Y, Wang Y, Liu Z. Acupuncture for restless legs syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;(4)CD006457.

    Explore restless legs syndrome. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/rls. Updated November 1, 2010. Accessed June 27, 2013.

    Restless legs syndrome (RLS). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114812/Restless-legs-syndrome-RLS. Updated ay 27, 2016. Accessed September 23, 2016.

    Restless legs syndrome fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/restless%5Flegs/detail%5Frestless%5Flegs.htm. Updated June 13, 2013. Accessed June 27, 2013.

    Salas RE, Gamaldo CE. Update in restless legs syndrome. Curr Opin Neurol. 2010;23(4):401-406.

    What is Willis-Ekbom disease (WED)/RLS? Willis-Ekbom Disease Foundation website. Available at: http://www.rls.org/about-rls. Accessed June 27, 2013.

    11/26/2012 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114812/Restless-legs-syndrome-RLS: Aurora R, Kristo D, Bista S, et al. The treatment of restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder in adults—an update for 2012: Practice parameters with an evidence-based systematic review and meta-analyses: An American Academy of Sleep Medicine Clinical Practice Guideline. Sleep. 2012;35(8):1039-1062.

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