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Restless legs syndrome

Willis-Ekbom disease; Nocturnal myoclonus; RLS; Akathisia

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).

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Nervous system

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Causes

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:

RLS may also occur in people who:

RLS occurs most often in middle-aged and older adults. Women are more likely to have RLS than men.

RLS is commonly passed down in families. This may be a factor when symptoms start at a younger age.

Symptoms

RLS leads to unpleasant feelings in your lower legs. These feelings cause an unstoppable urge to move your legs. You may feel:

These sensations:

Symptoms can make it difficult to sit during air or car travel, or through classes or meetings.

Stress or emotional upset can make symptoms worse.

Most people with RLS have rhythmic leg movements when they sleep. This condition is called periodic limb movement disorder.

All of these symptoms make it hard to sleep. Lack of sleep can lead to:

Exams and Tests

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.

Treatment

RLS can't be cured. However, treatment can help relieve symptoms.

Certain lifestyle changes may help you cope with the condition and ease symptoms.

Your provider may prescribe medicines to treat RLS.

Some medicines help control symptoms:

Other medicines can help you sleep:

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.

Outlook (Prognosis)

RLS is not dangerous. However, it can be uncomfortable, making it hard to sleep and affecting your quality of life.

Possible Complications

You may not be able to sleep well (insomnia).

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your provider if:

Prevention

There is no way to prevent RLS.

Related Information

Numbness and tingling
Drowsiness

References

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.

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Review Date: 6/23/2019  

Reviewed By: 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.

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