What is Restless Legs Syndrome?

Question: What is Restless Legs Syndrome?


Restless legs syndrome is a neurological disorder. Researchers believe that RLS affects at least 12 million people in the U.S. However, others believe that this condition affects many more who are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Unfortunately, many others simply haven’t told their doctors about their symptoms because they don’t believe their symptoms are serious enough; or they may believe their symptoms are untreatable.

It’s easy to recognize the signs and symptoms of RLS when they occur because of the extreme discomfort the condition causes to your legs. The signs and symptoms of RLS typically occur when you are ready to sleep or are trying to relax. Patients with RLS often describe their symptoms as tingling, creeping, crawling, or like bugs crawling around inside the legs.

Having RLS makes getting a good night’s rest practically impossible and, as a result, RLS sufferers often experience daytime drowsiness. Often, an unfortunate consequence of RLS is that the condition has a negative affect on jobs and relationships due to the fatigue experienced by those who have the condition. Lack of sleep also negatively affects memory and concentration.

While the exact cause of RLS remains unknown, having a family history of the condition occurs in about 50% of cases. Other conditions that may be associated with the onset of RLS include:

Pregnant women, usually in the third trimester, sometimes develop the symptoms of RLS. The good news for these women is that the symptoms of RLS usually go away by the 4th week postpartum.

Some medications can intensify the symptoms of RLS.

These medications include:

  • anti-nausea drugs such as prochlorperazine or metoclopramide
  • anti-seizure medications including phenytoin and droperidol
  • anti-psychotic drugs such as haloperidol or phenothiazine derivatives
  • some cold and allergy medications

If you take any of these drugs and experience RLS symptoms, you may want to talk with your doctor about the possibility of changing to another medication.

Other potential triggers or factors that can aggravate the symptoms of RLS include:

  • caffeine
  • alcohol
  • tobacco

Elimination of these substances may relieve your symptoms. However, it’s not known whether eliminating these potential triggers can prevent the onset of RLS.

While RLS is usually a lifelong condition, your doctor has many treatment options that you can try. These treatments include treating the underlying cause such as anemia or diabetes, making lifestyle changes such as reducing your intake of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco, as well as using dietary supplemental iron, folate, and magnesium, and drug treatments which include dopaminergics, benzodiazepines (central nervous system depressants), opioids, and anticonvulsants.

Talk to your doctor if you experience the symptoms of RLS.


Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS); NINDS; http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/restless_legs/detail_restless_legs.htm; accessed 09/10/08.

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