Kids and Restless Legs Syndrome

A Pediatrician Answers Common Questions About RLS

Mother and child in doctor's office
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Can Kids Get Restless Legs Syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is usually thought of as an adult disorder, so it is likely that many pediatricians are not familiar with it.

However, according to the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation, 'an estimated 1.5 million children and adolescents' are thought to have RLS and it is thought that 'RLS symptoms often begin during childhood or adolescence.'

What is Restless Legs Syndrome?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that 'restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a sensory disorder causing an almost irresistible urge to move the legs.

The urge to move is usually due to unpleasant feelings in the legs that occur when at rest. People with RLS use words such as creeping, crawling, tingling, or burning to describe these feelings. Moving the legs eases the feelings, but only for a while.'

Having Restless Legs Syndrome can make it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep.

Symptoms of Restless Legs Syndrome

The major symptoms for a child with restless legs syndrome include:

  • an almost irresistible urge to move their legs (or arms) when they are sitting or lying down, including pacing, walking, stretching, flexing, tossing, turning, jiggling their legs, or rubbing their legs
  • unpleasant feelings in their legs, including creeping, crawling, itching, tingling, burning, aching, pain, etc.
  • difficultly falling asleep or stay asleep
  • daytime symptoms from a lack of sleep, including daytime sleepiness

Keep in mind that children may find the unpleasant feelings hard to describe or they may describe their symptoms differently from the way that adults do.

Also, some children who are diagnosed with growing pains may actually have restless legs syndrome, especially if there is a family history of RLS. There may also be some association between restless legs syndrome and ADHD.

Diagnosis of Restless Legs Syndrome

Although there is no formal test that can help to diagnose restless legs syndrome, if your child can answer yes to the following four questions, then according to the NIH, he or she does have all of the conditions for a diagnosis of restless legs syndrome and he or she may to see a pediatric neurologist for further evaluation and treatment:

  1. Do you have an urge to move your legs due to an unpleasant feeling in your legs?
  2. Do the unpleasant feelings in your legs begin or get worse when you are at rest or not moving around frequently?
  3. Are the unpleasant feelings in your legs partly or completely relieved by movement (such as walking or stretching) for as long as the movement continues?
  4. Do the unpleasant feelings in your legs get worse in the evening and at night, or do they occur only in the evening or at night?

What You Need To Know

  • Restless legs syndrome tends to run in families.
  • People with RLS often also have Periodic Limb Movement Disorder, a condition in which their legs uncontrollably twitch or jerk every 10 to 60 seconds, usually during sleep.
  • It is not known what causes RLS, but restless legs syndrome can be secondary to iron deficiency anemia and some other medical conditions. It can also be a side effect of taking antidepressants, anti-nausea medicine, anti-seizure medicine, and some allergy and cold medicine. RLS can also sometimes be triggered by alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco.
  • Restless legs syndrome can be treated with lifestyle changes and medications.

1Children and RLS. Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation
2Restless legs syndrome. Ondo WG - Neurol Clin - 01-NOV-2005; 23(4): 1165-85, viii
3National Institutes of Health (NIH). Restless Legs Syndrome.
4Some children with growing pains may actually have restless legs syndrome. Rajaram SS - Sleep - 15-JUN-2004; 27(4): 767-73

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