Restless Legs Syndrome Health (cont.)

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Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) Symptoms

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The International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group described the following symptoms of restless legs syndrome (RLS):

  • Strange itching, tingling, or "crawling" sensations occurring deep within the legs. These sensations sometimes occur in the arms and typically occur during the night.
  • A compelling urge to move the limbs to relieve these sensations
  • Restlessness: Floor pacing, tossing and turning in bed, rubbing the legs
  • Symptoms may occur only with lying or sitting. Sometimes persistent symptoms occur that are worse with lying or sitting and better with activity.
  • In very severe cases, the symptoms may not improve with activity.

Other symptoms of RLS include the following:

  • Sleep disturbances and daytime sleepiness are very common.
  • Involuntary, repetitive, periodic, jerking limb movements occur either in sleep or while awake and at rest. These movements are called periodic leg movements of sleep or periodic limb movement disorder. About 80% of people with RLS also have this condition.

In some people with RLS, the symptoms do not occur every night, but they come and go. These people may go weeks or months without symptoms (remission) before the symptoms return again.

When to Seek Medical Care

If a person has any of the symptoms already described or have problems sleeping and don't know why, should talk to a health-care professional.

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) Diagnosis

For most people with restless legs syndrome (RLS), poor sleep and daytime sleepiness are the most bothersome symptoms. Many people do not link their sleep problem with the strange sensations in their legs. If a person has these sensations, be sure to mention it to a health-care professional. This provides a very important clue to what is causing the person to sleep poorly.

Sleep disturbances have many different causes. A health-care professional may ask the patient many detailed questions. These questions concern current medical problems, prior medical problems, family medical problems, medications, work history, travel history, personal habits, and lifestyle. The health-care professional will look for signs of an underlying cause for the patient's sleep problem.

There is no lab test or imaging study that can prove that a person has RLS. However, certain tests can identify underlying medical causes such as anemia, other deficiencies, and metabolic disorders that could cause RLS.

  • The patient may have blood drawn to check iron levels, blood cell counts and hemoglobin, basic organ functions, chemistry, and thyroid hormone levels. The patient may also may be checked for certain infections that could cause secondary RLS.
  • Needle electromyography and nerve conduction studies may be done if the health-care professional sees signs of neuropathy.
  • Polysomnography (sleep testing) may be necessary to diagnose the sleep disturbances and determine if the patient has periodic limb movements. This is especially important in people who continue to have significant sleep disturbances despite relief of RLS symptoms with treatment.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/19/2014

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