Restless legs syndrome (RLS) causes an urge to move the legs due to a disorder of the part of the nervous system. It is also considered as a sleep disorder because it usually interferes with sleep.

Causes of Restless Legs Syndrome

Doctors do not know the cause of restless legs syndrome in most cases; however, genes play a role as they suspect. Nearly half of people with RLS also have a family member with the condition.

Other factors associated with the development or worsening of restless legs syndrome include:

  • Chronic diseases. Certain chronic diseases and medical conditions, including iron deficiency, Parkinson’s disease, kidney failure, diabetes, and peripheral neuropathy often include symptoms of RLS.
  • Medications. Some types of medications, including antinausea drugs, antipsychotic drugs, some antidepressants, and cold and allergy medications containing sedating antihistamines, may worsen symptoms.
  • Pregnancy. Some women experience RLS during pregnancy, especially in the last trimester. Symptoms usually go away within a month after delivery.

Other factors, including alcohol use and sleep deprivation, may trigger symptoms or make them worse.

People with restless legs syndrome have irresistible urge to move their legs to relieve the uncomfortable sensations (“itchy,” “pins and needles,” or “creepy crawly” feeling). The sensations are usually worse at rest, especially when lying or sitting.

The severity of RLS symptoms ranges from mild to intolerable beacuse symptoms can come and go. The symptoms are generally worse in the evening and at night. These may cause severe nightly sleep disruption that impairs their quality of life.


Since there is no medical test to diagnose RLS, it can still be diagnosed by using certain laboratory tests as a basis for ruling other illnesses out. The diagnosis of RLS is based on a patient’s symptoms and answers to questions concerning family history of similar symptoms, medication use, the presence of other symptoms or medical conditions, or problems with daytime sleepiness.



Treatment for RLS is targeted at easing symptoms.

Non-drug RLS treatments may include:

  • Leg massages
  • Hot baths or heating pads or ice packs applied to the legs
  • Good sleep habits
  • A vibrating pad called Relaxis
  • Lifestyle changes

Medications may be helpful as RLS treatments, but the same drugs are not helpful for everyone. Each medication has a different effect in every other patient since causes of the syndrome are different. A drug can also lose its effectiveness through time.

Drugs used to treat RLS include:

  • Dopaminergic drugs. Mirapex, Neupro, and Requip are FDA-approved for treatment of moderate to severe RLS. Others, such as levodopa, may also be prescribed.
  • Benzodiazepines may be used to help with sleep.
  • Narcotic pain relievers may be used for severe pain.
  • Anticonvulsants, or antiseizure drugs, such as Tegretol, Lyrica, Neurontin, and Horizant.

Although there is no cure for restless legs syndrome, current treatments can help control the condition, decrease symptoms, and improve sleep.

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