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As much as 10 percent of the U.S. population may have Restless Legs Syndrome.*
*Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Restless Leg Syndrome Overview

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a neurological sleep and movement disorder characterized by unpleasant sensations in the legs and an uncontrollable, sometimes overwhelming urge to move the legs for relief. Patients describe the sensations as throbbing, pulling or creeping—they range from uncomfortable to irritating to painful.

RLS is a serious condition that cannot be cured, but it can be successfully treated in many patients. A diagnosis of Restless Legs Syndrome does not indicate the onset of another neurological disease such as Parkinson’s Disease.

The condition affects children as well as adults and symptoms may worsen with age. Some people will experience an interruption in symptoms (remission) before symptoms reappear, usually during early stages. About twice as many women as men are affected.

An unusual aspect of RLS is that lying down and trying to relax activates the symptoms. As a result, people with RLS have trouble falling and staying asleep, which leads to fatigue/sleep deprivation. The lack of sleep makes it hard to concentrate, and can lead to memory problems, depression or failure to accomplish tasks.

Some patients do not seek medical help because they believe the condition is not serious enough, or they doubt that anything can help. WellStar neurologists urge individuals with these symptoms to make an appointment in order to confirm that the symptoms are not related to an underlying condition and to explore ways to feel better.


Patients with RLS describe the symptoms in diverse, personal terms. According to the National Sleep Foundation, some describe the feeling as, “like ants crawling through my legs” or “like soda running through my veins.”

If you answer yes to several of the following questions you may have RLS and should visit your doctor:

  • When you sit or lie down do you have a strong desire to move your legs?
  • Does the desire to move your legs feel impossible to resist?
  • Have you ever used words like “creepy crawly,” “creeping,” “itching,” “pulling” or “tugging” to describe how your legs feel?
  • Does the urge to move often occur when you are resting or sitting still?
  • Does moving your legs make you feel better?
  • Do you have more of these symptoms at night?
  • Have you kept your bed partner awake with jerking movements in the legs?
  • Do you ever have involuntary leg movements while you are awake?
  • Are you tired or find it difficult to concentrate during the day?
  • Do any other family members report similar symptoms?
  • Have you identified any medical cause for these symptoms?

Risk Factors

More than half of people with Restless Legs Syndrome have a family history of the condition. RLS is also more common in people from northern and western Europe, which may support the idea of a genetic basis. A 2011 study found that people with Parkinson’s disease may be more likely to have a disorder called leg motor restlessness, but not RLS, as previous studies suggested.

The condition has been associated with other factors including:

  • Pregnancy, especially during the last trimester. Symptoms usually disappear within four weeks post-delivery
  • Osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Varicose veins
  • Chronic diseases like kidney failure, diabetes and peripheral neuropathy
  • Hypertension
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Emphysema
  • Being on dialysis
  • Sleep apnea
  • Chronic alcoholism
  • Chronic headache
  • Brain or spinal injuries
  • Some medications taken for other purposes may worsen symptoms of RLS. Examples are anti-nausea drugs, antipsychotic medications and some cold and allergy medicines containing sedating antihistamines