Authored by Revere Health

What You Need to Know About Restless Leg Syndrome

May 24, 2017 | Internal Medicine

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is a condition involving an uncontrollable urge to move the legs,  as a result of general discomfort. These urges typically occur at night while sitting or lying down.

RLS can develop at any age and generally gets progressively worse. Luckily, there are also some steps you can take to reduce symptoms.


Restless Leg Syndrome Symptoms


Symptoms of RLS include:

  • A strong desire to move the legs while sitting or lying down. This is the defining characteristic of RLS, and it typically begins after an extended period of inactivity. Symptoms occur mainly at night, and will often get worse at night.
  • Movement relief: When the legs are moved or stretched, RLS patients experience notable relief.
  • Involuntary leg movements or twitches: These occur while awake, or sometimes while asleep (while asleep, this is associated with a condition called periodic limb movement of sleep).
  • Tiredness or inability to concentrate during the day.
  • Sensations: Most people describe sensations in the legs (or occasionally arms), with descriptors like crawling, creeping, pulling, throbbing, aching and itching. These sensations are usually not described as a cramp or numbness.


There aren’t generally many major complications associated with RLS outside the damage it can cause to sleep patterns. However, these sleep pattern issues can lead to changes in your quality of life and mood. If you’re experiencing RLS, speak to your doctor.


Restless Leg Syndrome Causes And Accompanying Conditions


In many cases, there’s no known cause for RLS. Some researchers believe it is related to a dopamine imbalance in the brain (dopamine helps control muscle movement), and it may also be related to heredity or pregnancy in some cases. It can develop at any age, though it’s more common as we get older and more frequently seen in women than in men.

In some cases, RLS can accompany other conditions. These include:

  • Peripheral neuropathy: Damage to nerves in the hands and feet, sometimes caused by diabetes or alcoholism.
  • Iron deficiency: An iron deficiency can cause or worsen RLS.
  • Kidney failure: Kidney failure often means people also have an iron deficiency.


Restless Leg Syndrome Diagnosis


There’s no set diagnostic test for RLS. Your doctor will take your medical history and ask about symptoms, and then will use several criteria to help determine if you have RLS:

  • Urge to move the legs: This is usually accompanied by uncomfortable sensations
  • Symptoms relieved by movement: This includes stretching—these movements are often repetitive in nature
  • Symptoms that worsen during long periods of inactivity
  • Symptoms that are worse at night
  • Symptoms that are not due to another condition


Your doctor may also complete a neurological exam and order a blood test to check for an iron deficiency. In some cases, you’ll be asked to stay overnight at a sleep clinic for study.


Restless Leg Syndrome Treatment and Symptom Prevention


A few medications might be used to help with symptoms of restless leg syndrome, and these may change over time if certain medications become ineffective. In cases where iron deficiency is a factor, medications or changes in diet might be tailored toward this.

Most of RLS treatment, however, focuses on basic changes you can make to help alleviate your symptoms. Some of these changes include:

  • Identifying habits: Find habits that worsen symptoms, and limit them
  • Establishing a good diet: This includes limiting alcohol and caffeine intake
  • Relaxing muscles: Use baths, massages and warm or cool packs
  • Looking at medications: Talk with your doctor about alternatives to medications that might be worsening your RLS
  • Establishing good sleep hygiene: This includes finding a comfortable environment and consistent timing
  • Getting regular moderate exercise: Exercises that are too heavy or too late in the day might make symptoms worse)
  • Finding activities that help with RLS: Anything from stretching to video games while seated can have an effect for some people


If you are developing restless leg syndrome that’s interfering with quality of life, speak to your doctor and he or she will give you the proper treatment for your specific diagnosis.


Our internists provide a wide variety of care for diseases, disease prevention and other illnesses for adolescents and adults.




“Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) And Sleep.” National Sleep Foundation.

“Restless leg syndrome.” The Mayo Clinic.


The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.