Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a sleep disorder causing an intense, often irresistible urge to move your legs. RLS is brought on by lying down or sitting for long periods of time. Although RLS can occur at any age, it is more common in older adults and affects women more than men. Several medical problems can contribute to developing RLS, including iron deficiency, Parkinson’s disease, renal (kidney) disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and peripheral neuropathy (nerve pain, tingling or loss of feeling in the extremities). Pregnant women, dialysis patients, and those taking antidepressants, sedating antihistamines or anti-nausea medications may develop RLS.
What are the symptoms of RLS? The urge to move your legs is often accompanied by tingling, pulling, creeping or uncomfortable sensations.
This condition, which typically occurs in the evening, is partially or completely relieved by stretching, walking
or exercising the affected muscles. RLS can cause problems falling asleep, staying asleep, daytime tiredness, irritability and concentration problems.
How is RLS diagnosed? Your physician will take a medical and sleep history, and perform a full physical and neurological exam
to check for nerve damage or blood vessel problems. Blood tests may be ordered to rule out medical disorders associated with RLS. Sleep studies are not required to diagnose RLS but may be indicated if other
sleep disorders are suspected, such as sleep apnea.
How is RLS treated? RLS is treated in different ways, depending on the intensity of the symptoms. In some cases, RLS is temporary and resolves when other conditions are treated. RLS is either primary (inherited or genetic) or
secondary. If secondary causes cannot be treated (like in renal failure or peripheral neuropathy), medications
to manage RLS symptoms are prescribed. Several types of medications are effective for treatment of RLS including new treatments recently FDA approved. Treatment should be tailored to meet the individual’s
needs and timed in accordance with symptom onset. Lifestyle changes include avoiding caffeine, alcohol and tobacco. Massage, warm baths and leg stretches also may be helpful.