Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a nervous system problem that causes you to feel an unstoppable urge to get up and pace or walk. You feel uncomfortable unless you move your legs. Moving stops the unpleasant feeling for a short time.
Nocturnal myoclonus; RLS; Akathisia
No one knows exactly what causes RLS. It may be due to a problem with the way brain cells use dopamine. Dopamine is a brain chemical that helps with muscle movement.
RLS may be linked to some other conditions. It may occur more often in people with:
There is no specific test for restless legs syndrome. Your health care provider will take your medical history and do a physical exam. You may have blood tests and other exams to rule out conditions that can cause similar symptoms.
Usually, your provider will determine whether you have RLS based on your symptoms.
Restless legs syndrome can't be cured. However, treatment can help relieve symptoms.
Certain lifestyle changes may help you cope with the condition and ease symptoms.
Get enough sleep. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Make sure your bed and bedroom are comfortable.
Try using hot or cold packs.
Help your muscles relax with gentle stretches, massage, and warm baths.
Take time out of your day to just to relax. Try yoga, meditation, or other ways to ease tension.
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco. They may make symptoms worse.
Your health care provider may prescribe medicines to treat RLS.
Some medicines help control symptoms:
Low doses of narcotics
Other medicines can help you sleep:
Sinemet (combination carbidopa-levodopa), an anti-Parkinson's medication
Gabapentin and pregabalin
Clonazepam or other tranquilizers
Medicines to help you sleep may cause daytime sleepiness.
Treating conditions with similar symptoms such as peripheral neuropathy or iron deficiency can also help relieve symptoms.
RLS is not dangerous. However, it can be uncomfortable, make it hard to sleep, and affect your quality of life.
You may not be able to sleep very well (insomnia).
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
You have symptoms of restless legs syndrome
Your sleep is disrupted
Symptoms get worse
There is no way to prevent RLS.
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Wilt TJ, MacDonald R, Ouellette J, et al. Pharmacologic therapy for primary restless legs syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Med. 2013;173:496-505.
Joseph V. Campellone, M.D., Department of Neurology, Cooper University Hospital, Camden, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.