What is restless legs syndrome (RLS)?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS), also called Willis-Ekbom disease, is a sleep disorder that causes an intense, often irresistible urge to move your legs (and even your arms or body). It occurs along with other sensations in your limbs described as pulling, creeping, tugging, throbbing, itching, aching, burning or crawling.

These sensations usually occur when lying down in bed or when sitting for long periods of time, such as while driving or while at a theater. RLS typically occurs in the evening, making it difficult to fall asleep. Often times people with RLS want to walk around and shake their legs (or arms) to help relieve the uncomfortable sensations.

Who gets restless legs syndrome (RLS)?

People of any age, including children, can have RLS. Symptoms of RLS may begin in childhood or adulthood, but the chance of having the syndrome increases significantly with age. RLS is more common in women than in men. Up to 10 percent of the United States population has RLS.

What causes restless legs syndrome (RLS)?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) has been found to be a genetic syndrome in some cases, meaning that parents with RLS can pass it down to their children. Up to 92% of patients with RLS have a first-degree relative with the disorder. These patients tend to develop symptoms earlier in life (before age 45) than those with RLS without the genetic link.

In addition to the genetic source, many medical problems are closely associated with the development of RLS, including:

Medications can also contribute to the development of RLS. Such known medications include antidepressants, allergy drugs and anti-nausea medications. Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol can also make symptoms worse.

What are the symptoms of restless legs syndrome (RLS)?

Symptoms of restless legs syndrome include:

  • Leg (or arm) discomfort: These uncomfortable limb sensations are often described by adults as creeping, itching, pulling, crawling, tugging, throbbing, burning, or gnawing. These sensations usually occur at bedtime but can occur at other times of limb inactivity.
  • Urge to move legs (or arms): To relieve limb discomfort, you have an uncontrollable urge to move your limbs especially when resting, such as when sitting or lying down.
  • Sleep disruption: Additional time is often needed to fall asleep because of the urge to move your limbs to relieve the discomfort. Sometimes staying asleep may also be difficult.
  • Bedtime behavior problems: Because of the discomfort, you may need to get out of bed to stretch your limbs to relieve the discomfort.
  • Daytime sleepiness: Problems with falling asleep and staying asleep may result in daytime sleepiness.
  • Behavior and work performance problems: Again, due to sleep disruption, problems may emerge in daytime behavior (irritability, moodiness, difficulty concentrating, hyperactivity, etc) and work performance.

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