Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Restless Legs Syndrome

(RLS)

Definition

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a nerve problem. It is an urge to move the legs that you can’t control.

Causes  ^

The cause is unknown. It may be due to your genes. In some cases, it can be from health problems or certain medicines.

Risk Factors  ^

RLS is more common in women. It can happen at any age, but happens more often in adults.

Things that raise your risk are:

  • Certain medications, such as antidepressants and antihistamines
  • Pregnancy
  • Family history

Certain long-term diseases may lead to RLS. These are:

Symptoms  ^

You may have:

  • An urge to move the legs
  • Feelings of pins and needles, creeping, pulling, prickling, pins and needles, or pain in the legs
  • Symptoms that get worse at night

People with RLS often have insomnia, which may be severe.

Diagnosis  ^

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis is based mainly on your symptoms. There is no test for RLS.

Tests to check for health problems that may trigger RLS are:

  • Blood tests
  • Monitoring of leg activity
  • Sleep studies

Nerves of the Leg
Leg Nerves

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Treatment  ^

There is no cure for RLS. Treatments are aimed at relieving or reducing symptoms.

Treatment for Mild Cases of RLS

Mild cases can be treated with self care:

  • Massage your legs.
  • Use a heating pad or ice pack.
  • Take a hot bath.
  • Do not use tobacco, alcohol, or caffeine.
  • Follow a sleep routine.
  • Begin a safe exercise program with the advice of your doctor.
  • Avoid the use of medications that may worsen RLS.

Treatment for Problems That May Trigger RLS

Treating problems that may trigger RLS can ease symptoms or make them go away:

Treatment for Severe Cases of RLS

Medicine

Dopamine agonists are the only drugs that are approved to treat RLS. They are thought to be the most helpful type of medicine for it.

Other medicines may be used to help control symptoms. Some medicines are high blood pressure medicine, antiseizure medicine, and opioids. The medicine you are given will be based on your symptoms and health history.

Prevention  ^

There is no way to prevent RLS.

RESOURCES:

National Sleep Foundation
http://www.sleepfoundation.org

Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation
http://www.rls.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Sleep Society
http://www.css-scs.ca

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

Cui Y, Wang Y, Liu Z. Acupuncture for restless legs syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;(4)CD006457.

Explore restless legs syndrome. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/rls. Accessed June 18, 2018.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114812/Restless-legs-syndrome-RLS. Updated June 26, 2017. Accessed June 18, 2018.

Restless legs syndrome fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/restless_legs/detail_restless_legs.htm. Updated May 9, 2017. Accessed June 18, 2018.

Salas RE, Gamaldo CE. Update in restless legs syndrome. Curr Opin Neurol. 2010;23(4):401-406.

Understanding RLS. Restless Legs Syndrome Disease Foundation website. Available at: https://www.rls.org/understanding-rls. Accessed June 27, 2013.

Winkelman JW, Armstrong MJ, Allen RP, et al. Practice guideline summary: Treatment of restless leg syndrome in adults: Report of the Guideline, Development, Dissemination, and Implementation Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology. 2016;87(24):2585-93.

11/26/2012 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114812/Restless-legs-syndrome-RLS: Aurora R, Kristo D, Bista S, et al. The treatment of restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movement disorder in adults—an update for 2012: Practice parameters with an evidence-based systematic review and meta-analyses: An American Academy of Sleep Medicine Clinical Practice Guideline. Sleep. 2012;35(8):1039-1062.

Last reviewed June 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD  Last Updated: 6/18/2018