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RLS: Restless Legs Syndrome

Understanding Restless Leg Syndrome

What Is Restless Legs Syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a disorder that causes a strong urge to move your legs. This urge to move often occurs with strange and unpleasant feelings in your legs. Moving your legs relieves the urge and the unpleasant feelings.

People who have RLS describe the unpleasant feelings as creeping, crawling, pulling, itching, tingling, burning, aching, or electric shocks. Sometimes, the feelings also occur in the arms.

The urge to move and unpleasant feelings occur when you’re resting and inactive. They tend to be worse in the evening and at night and are temporarily relieved in the morning.

RLS can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. It may make you feel tired and sleepy during the day. This can make it hard to learn, work, and do your normal routine. Not getting enough sleep also can cause depression, mood swings, or other health problems.

RLS can range from mild to severe based on:

  • The strength of your symptoms and how often they occur
  • How easily moving around relieves your symptoms
  • How much your symptoms disturb your sleep

One type of RLS usually starts early in life (before age 45) and tends to run in families. It may even start in childhood. Once this type of RLS starts, it usually lasts for the rest of your life. Over time, symptoms slowly get worse and occur more often. If you have a mild case, you may have long periods with no symptoms.

Another type of RLS usually starts later in life (after age 45). It generally doesn’t run in families. This type tends to have a more abrupt onset. The symptoms usually don’t get worse with age.

Some diseases, conditions, and medicines also may trigger RLS. For example, it has been associated with kidney failure, Parkinson disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and iron deficiency. When a disease, condition, or medicine causes RLS, the symptoms usually start suddenly.

Medical conditions or medicines often cause or worsen the type of RLS that starts later in life.

Outlook

RLS symptoms often get worse over time. However, some people’s symptoms go away for weeks to months.

If a condition or medicine triggers RLS, it may go away if the trigger is relieved or stopped. Kidney transplants (but not dialysis) relieve RLS linked to kidney failure.

Treatments for RLS include lifestyle changes and medicines. Some simple lifestyle changes often help relieve mild cases of RLS. Medicines usually can relieve or prevent the symptoms of more severe RLS. Research is ongoing to better understand the causes of RLS and to find better treatments.

Content Created/Medically Reviewed by our Expert Doctors
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