Key Points about Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

  • Restless legs syndrome – or RLS – causes uncomfortable sensations in your legs when you’re resting or lying down, particularly in the evening and nighttime.
  • Symptoms of RLS typically decrease when you get up and move around.
  • Treatment for RLS focuses on treating the underlying health condition (if present), decreasing troublesome symptoms and helping you sleep better.

Overview

Restless legs syndrome – or RLS – is a disorder that causes an uncontrollable urge to move your legs. This urge is usually due to an uncomfortable sensation in your legs, which often decreases when you move around. RLS most often occurs in the evening or nighttime hours when you’re sitting or lying down. 

Restless legs syndrome causes 

Experts haven’t pinpointed the exact cause of RLS. They do know that RLS runs in families, and that pregnancy hormones can temporarily worsen RLS symptoms.

Restless legs syndrome risk factors

Factors that put you at an increased risk for developing RLS include:

  • Being female
  • Being in kidney failure
  • Having a spinal cord condition or injury
  • Having an iron deficiency, even without being anemic
  • Having peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage in your hands or feet)

Restless legs syndrome symptoms

Signs and symptoms of RLS may include:

  • Feeling that you need to move your legs
  • Sensations in your legs that lessen when you move around
  • Twitching or kicking in your sleep
  • Uncomfortable sensations in your legs that begin after you rest, especially in the evening

Restless legs syndrome diagnosis

Your specialist will use one or more of the following diagnostic tools to diagnose RLS:

  • Physical exam. Your specialist will complete a physical exam and ask you about your symptoms and history related to RLS.
  • Blood tests. You may need to undergo blood tests to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.
  • Sleep study. In some cases, your specialist may recommend you undergo a sleep study at a sleep lab so that you can be closely monitored in your sleep. A sleep study can help your sleep specialist determine if you have another sleep condition, such as sleep apnea, in addition to RLS.

Restless legs syndrome treatment

If your RLS is caused by another underlying health condition, such as iron deficiency, treatment focuses on getting that condition under control. Your sleep specialist may prescribe one or more of the following medications to help manage your RLS symptoms:

  • Calcium channel medication. Some of these medications help people with RLS.
  • Dopamine increasing medication. Dopamine is the brain chemical that regulates sleep. This type of medication works by increasing dopamine in the brain, so your brain is signaled to relax and help your body get to sleep.
  • Muscle relaxants. These medications can help you sleep better at night, but they don’t relieve the leg sensations. They can also can daytime drowsiness.
  • Sleep medication. This type of medication can help you get to sleep and stay asleep better, but they don’t help with the uncomfortable leg sensations.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a sleep medicine provider for more specialized treatment.