What Are the Symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome?

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Doctor pointing at legs

Of all of the medical terms out there, perhaps restless legs syndrome (RLS) best describes the symptoms experienced by people with the disorder. With RLS, you literally have an uncontrollable urge to move your legs. But for many people who have RLS, the signs and symptoms don't stop there. You may also experience the following:

Your legs feel funny. Specific sensations vary from person to person, but they may include throbbing, creeping, pulling, tingling, and other unpleasant feelings. They may range from irritating to painful.

You want to move your legs. There are two reasons this may occur. First, RLS causes the irresistible desire to move your legs. Second, moving your legs helps relieve the discomfort. As a result, you continue moving them to minimize the uncomfortable sensations or to prevent them from coming back.

Symptoms strike at night. It's a cruel reality that relaxing revs up symptoms. RLS urges intensify during physical inactivity. This can make falling asleep and staying asleep nearly impossible. So, to make matters worse, you may experience symptoms of sleep deprivation since you aren't catching enough z's. Left untreated, RLS can lead to issues such as daytime sleepiness, which can interfere with your work, relationships, and daily life.

Your legs move spontaneously. More than 80 percent of people with RLS also experience a condition called periodic limb movement of sleep (PLMS). With PLMS, your legs may twitch or jerk while you're sleeping as often as every 15 to 40 seconds. This can continue all night long—seriously affecting your ability to get some needed shut-eye.

Your symptoms may come and go. Some people with RLS experience periods of remission, in which symptoms get better over several weeks or months, and then return.

It's important to note that sometimes, medical conditions like edema, arthritis and leg cramps, or behavioral conditions, like habitual foot tapping or sitting in an uncomfortable position, can cause symptoms close to RLS. Similarly, some side effects of medications can lead to RLS-like symptoms. If none of these is the culprit, that's one way to tell that you have RLS.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Jul 17
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. National Institutes of Health. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/rls/rls_SignsAndSymptoms.html

  2. Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. National Institutes of Health. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/restless_legs/detail_restless_legs.htm

  3. Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet. Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation. http://www.rls.org/Document.Doc?&id=766

  4. Bozorg, Ali M. Restless Legs Syndrome. MedScape. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1188327-overview