Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome causes unpleasant sensations in your legs while you sleep, creating an irresistible urge to move them to get relief.

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People with restless legs syndrome (RLS) are awakened repeatedly during the night with unpleasant sensations in their legs — described as crawling, prickling and tingling. RLS can occur in one or both legs, and some people have symptoms during the day as well.

RLS symptoms typically:

  • Occur in your calves, but may occur anywhere from your thigh to your ankle and even in your arms.
  • Get worse when you’re inactive, especially late in the day or when you’re trying to fall asleep at night.
  • Are relieved temporarily by walking or stretching, bending, or rubbing your leg.

RLS can begin at any age, but it’s more common in older adults. It sometimes occurs during pregnancy, and people with diabetes or anemia have a higher risk for the condition. In some cases, it runs in families.

Some people with RLS also have a similar condition called periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD). With this condition, your legs or arms flex or jerk involuntarily, as often as every 20 to 40 seconds. It occurs mostly during sleep or as you’re trying to fall asleep. You can have it along with RLS or by itself. According to the National Institutes of Health, these two conditions account for about one third of sleep loss in people over 60.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Both RLS and PLMD cause fragmented sleep and lead to daytime sleepiness. To diagnose these conditions, your doctor will conduct a physical exam and may also suggest a sleep study to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other sleep disorders.

If your sleep study reveals that you have RLS or PLMD, the sleep experts at El Camino Health will recommend treatment to help relieve your symptoms. For some, simply adopting lifestyle changes such as healthy sleep habits and maintaining a well-balanced diet can alleviate symptoms. Treating underlying conditions, such as diabetes, may also help. In some cases, your doctor may recommend medications to improve symptoms.