Restless Legs Syndrome Facts

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Close-up of woman's hand holding calf muscle on right leg

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a disorder in which a person feels uncomfortable sensations in the legs and has the urge to move to stop the sensations.

People with RLS describe the sensations as creeping, crawling, tingling, pulling, and painful.

These feelings usually occur in the calf area, but may be felt anywhere from the thigh to the ankle. One or both legs may be affected. Some people also feel the sensations in their arms. People with RLS have an irresistible urge to move to alleviate the sensations when they occur.

Some people only feel the need to move, but don’t feel the sensations.

It’s important to talk with your doctor if you experience symptoms of RLS. Sleep problems, such as exhaustion and daytime fatigue, are common with RLS because sufferers find it hard to get to sleep or stay asleep. This can affect your performance at work, relationships with family and friends, and other daily activities. You may find it hard to concentrate or accomplish tasks, and you may notice problems with your memory.

RLS affects about 12 million people in the U.S. It can affect anyone at any age, but it may be more common in women and older adults. People who are middle-aged and older have more severe symptoms and experience them more frequently and for longer periods of time.

For most people, the cause of RLS is not known. Family history may play a role in some cases.  Other cases may be associated with another health condition, such as anemia or chronic diseases like diabetes, kidney failure, or Parkinson’s disease. Some women who are pregnant may experience symptoms late in pregnancy, though for most, symptoms go away after delivery.

Substances such as alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and certain medications have been shown to aggravate or trigger RLS symptoms in some people. Sometimes reducing their use or eliminating them completely can ease symptoms.

Your doctor can diagnose RLS based on your signs and symptoms, a complete medical history, and a physical examination. He or she may recommend other tests, such as a blood test or a sleep study. Currently, there is no definitive test to diagnose RLS.

Specific treatment options for RLS may include implementing good sleep habits, eliminating activities that worsen symptoms, maintaining a well-balanced diet, and/or FDA-approved medications for RLS. Don't put up with another bad night's sleep. Your doctor will help you determine the best course of treatment.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Apr 20

  1. Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

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