Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a nervous system problem that causes you to feel an unstoppable urge to get up and pace or walk. You feel uncomfortable unless you move your legs. Moving stops the unpleasant feeling for a short time.
This disorder is also known as restless legs syndrome/Willis-Ekbom disease (RLS/WED).
I Would Like to Learn About:
No one knows exactly what causes RLS. It may be due to a problem with the way brain cells use dopamine. Dopamine is a brain chemical that helps with muscle movement.
RLS may be linked to some other conditions. It may occur more often in people with:
There is no specific test for RLS. Your health care provider will take your medical history and do a physical exam. You may have blood tests and other exams to rule out conditions that can cause similar symptoms.
Usually, your provider will determine whether you have RLS based on your symptoms.
RLS can't be cured. However, treatment can help relieve symptoms.
Certain lifestyle changes may help you cope with the condition and ease symptoms.
Get enough sleep. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Make sure your bed and bedroom are comfortable.
Try using hot or cold packs on your legs.
Help your muscles relax with gentle stretches, massage, and warm baths.
Take time out of your day to just relax. Try yoga, meditation, or other ways to ease tension.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco. They may make symptoms worse.
Your provider may prescribe medicines to treat RLS.
Some medicines help control symptoms:
Low doses of narcotics
Other medicines can help you sleep:
Sinemet (combination carbidopa-levodopa), an anti-Parkinson medicine
Gabapentin and pregabalin
Clonazepam or other tranquilizers
Medicines to help you sleep may cause daytime sleepiness.
Treating conditions with similar symptoms such as peripheral neuropathy or iron deficiency can also help relieve symptoms.
RLS is not dangerous. However, it can be uncomfortable, making it hard to sleep and affecting your quality of life.
Allen RP, Montplaisir J, Walters AS, Ferini-Strambi L, Hogl B. Restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movements during sleep. In: Kryger M, Roth T, Dement WC, eds. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 95.
Chokroverty S, Avidan AY. Sleep and its disorders. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 102.
Winkelman JW, Armstrong MJ, Allen RP, et al. Practice guideline summary: treatment of restless legs syndrome in adults: report of the Guideline Development, Dissemination, and Implementation Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology. 2016;87(24):2585-2593. PMID: 27856776 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27856776.
Alireza Minagar, MD, MBA, Professor, Department of Neurology, LSU Health Sciences Center, Shreveport, LA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.