What is Restless Legs Syndrome?

What is Restless Legs Syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS)—also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, is a neurological disorder that causes unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations in your legs and an irresistible urge to move them. Symptoms commonly occur in the late afternoon or evening hours and are often most intense at night when you are resting. RLS can severely disrupt your sleep, making it difficult to fall asleep or return to sleep after waking up. Moving the legs or walking typically relieves the discomfort but the sensations often recur once the movement stops.

Is Restless Legs Syndrome A Sleep Disorder?

Restless Legs Syndrome is a sleep disorder, because the symptoms are triggered by resting and attempting to sleep. It is also a movement disorder, because people with RLS are forced to move their legs in order to relieve symptoms.   

Who Is Affected By Restless Legs Syndrome?

It is estimated that up to 10 percent of the U.S. population may have RLS, which can begin at any age. It occurs in both males and females, although females are more likely to have it. Many individuals who are severely affected are middle-aged or older, and the symptoms typically become more frequent and last longer with age.

RLS is generally a lifelong condition for which there is no cure. However, treatments are available to ease symptoms.

What Are Some Common Signs And Symptoms Of Restless Legs Syndrome?

If you have RLS, you may feel a strong urge to move, which is accompanied by uncomfortable sensations in your lower limbs that are unlike normal sensations experienced by someone without the disorder. The sensations in your legs may feel like aching, throbbing, pulling, itching, crawling, or creeping. These sensations less commonly affect the arms, and rarely the chest or head. Although the sensations can occur on just one side of your body, they most often affect both sides. 

When Does Restless Legs Syndrome Begin?:

RLS sensations begin after rest—they typically occur when you are inactive and sitting for extended periods (e.g., when taking a trip by plane or watching a movie). The symptoms generally worsen at night with a distinct symptom-free period in the early morning. You might have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. You may also note a worsening of symptoms if your sleep is further reduced by events or activity.

Does Movement Provide Relief For Restless Legs Syndrome?

Movement may provide relief of discomfort. You may need to keep your legs (or other affected parts of the body) in motion to minimize or prevent the sensations. You might need to walk around or constantly move your legs while sitting.

RLS symptoms may vary from day to day, in how severe they are and their frequency, and from person to person. With moderately severe RLS, your symptoms might only occur once or twice a week but often result in significant delay of sleep onset, with some disruption of daytime function. In severe cases of RLS, the symptoms occur more than twice a week.

What Does A Person Suffering from Restless Legs Syndrome Experience?

RLS can cause you to experience the following:

  • Changes in mood
  • Exhaustion and daytime sleepiness
  • Problems concentrating
  • Impaired memory
  • Decreased productivity
  • Depression and anxiety

You might experience remissions—periods in which symptoms decrease or disappear for weeks or months—usually during the early stages of the disorder. In general, however, symptoms often reappear and become more severe over time.

How Is Restless Legs Syndrome Diagnosed?

There is no specific test for RLS, so the condition is diagnosed by a doctor’s evaluation. The basic criteria for clinically diagnosing RLS include:

  1. A strong and often overwhelming need or urge to move your legs that is often associated with abnormal, unpleasant, or uncomfortable sensations.
  2. The urge to move your legs starts or get worse during rest or inactivity.
  3. The urge to move your legs is at least temporarily and partially or totally relieved by movements. 
  4. The urge to move your legs starts or is aggravated in the evening or night.

The above four features are not due to any other medical or behavioral condition.

A neurological and physical exam, plus information about your medical and family history and list of current medications, may be helpful. You should talk with your doctor about the frequency, duration, and intensity of your symptoms—if movement helps to relieve them; how much time it takes to fall asleep; any pain related to symptoms; and, any tendency toward daytime sleep patterns and sleepiness, disturbance of sleep, or daytime function. 

Blood tests may rule out other conditions that may be causing your RLS symptoms, such as kidney failure, low iron levels, and other causes of sleep disruption, such as sleep apnea and pregnancy. In fact, about 25 percent of pregnant females develop RLS but the symptoms often disappear after giving birth.

Diagnosing RLS in children may be especially difficult as it may be hard for children to describe their symptoms. Pediatric RLS can sometimes be misdiagnosed as “growing pains” or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

What Are Some Treatments & Cures For Restless Legs Syndrome?

There is no cure for RLS but some symptoms can be treated. Moving your affected limb(s) may provide temporary relief. Sometimes RLS symptoms can be controlled by treating an associated medical condition, such as peripheral neuropathy, diabetes, or iron deficiency anemia.

What Are Some Medications For Restless Legs Syndrome?

Medications for RLS include:

  • Iron supplements
  • Anti-seizure medications
  • Dopaminergic medications which increase dopamine in the brain, can reduce symptoms of RLS when taken at night. 
  • Opioids 
  • Benzodiazepines

What Lifestyle Changes Help Provide Relief For Restless Legs Syndrome?

The following lifestyle changes and activities may provide some relief if you have mild to moderate RLS:

  • Avoid or decrease the use of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine
  • Change or maintain a regular sleep pattern
  • Try moderate, regular exercise
  • Massage the legs or take a warm bath
  • Apply a heating pad or ice pack
  • Use foot wraps specially designed for people with RLS, or vibration pads to the back of the legs
  • Do aerobic and leg-stretching exercises of moderate intensity


To learn more about Restless Legs Syndrome or Sleep Disorders or if you feel that you or someone you know may be suffering from it or having trouble sleeping, contact us at info@columbussleep.com or call us at 614-866-8200. We have 7 locations in Ohio to serve you!

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MON-FRI: 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM

PHONE: 614-866-8200
FAX: 614-328-2809

MON-FRI: 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM

PHONE: 614-866-8200
FAX: 614-328-2809

MON-FRI: 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM

PHONE: 614-866-8200
FAX: 614-328-2809

MON-FRI: 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM