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Restless Legs Syndrome

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Restless Legs Syndrome



Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a nerve problem. It causes unpleasant feelings in the legs. A person may have the urge to move them. RLS symptoms are worse at rest and can make it hard to sleep well. Poor sleep can lead to exhaustion and problems working or getting through the day.


The exact cause is not known. Certain genes may cause RLS or raise the risk of it. It may also be unmasked or made worse by:

  • Some medicines
  • Pregnancy
  • Changes in levels of iron in the blood
  • Other health problems

Risk Factors

RLS is more common in women. It is also more common in people over 65 years of age. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Family history
  • Taking certain medicines, such as antidepressants and antihistamines
  • Low iron levels—may or may not be linked to anemia
  • Pregnancy
  • Chronic kidney disease


A person with RLS may have:

  • An urge to move the legs—when the legs are moved symptoms get better
  • Feelings of pins and needles, creeping, pulling, prickling, or pain in the legs
  • Problems that get worse in the evening and night
  • A hard time falling asleep and staying asleep


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. This is often enough to make the diagnosis. There is no test for RLS itself. Tests may be done to look for things triggering RLS. Tests may include:

  • Blood tests to check iron levels or kidney changes
  • Sleep study to check leg movement and sleep problems
Nerves of the Leg.

Leg Nerveshttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=68446844leg_nerves.jpgLeg nervesNULLjpgLeg NervesNULL\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\leg_nerves.jpgNULL47NULL2008-01-214001376844_21336Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


The goal of treatment is to ease symptoms that are getting in the way of daily life. Home care steps may include:

Iron supplements may help if low iron levels are linked to problems. Managing current medicine or other health problems may also ease symptoms.

Medicine may be needed for severe symptoms. They may help ease symptoms and improve sleep. Types of medicine that may be used include:

  • Dopamine agonists
  • Antiseizure medicine
  • Opioids
  • Benzodiazepine


There are no steps to prevent RLS.





  • Garcia-Borreguero, D. and Cano-Pumarega, I. New concepts in the management of restless legs syndrome. BMJ, 2017; 356: j104.
  • Gonzalez-Latapi, P. and Malkani, R. Update on restless leg syndrome: from mechanisms to treatment. Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports, 2019; 19 (8): 54.
  • Restless legs syndrome fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/restless_legs/detail_restless_legs.htm.
  • Restless legs syndrome (RLS). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/restless-legs-syndrome-rls.
  • Understanding RLS. Restless Legs Syndrome Disease Foundation website. Available at: https://www.rls.org/understanding-rls.
  • Winkelman, J.W., Armstrong, M.J., et al. Practice guideline summary: treatment of restless leg syndrome in adults: report of the Guideline, Development, Dissemination, and Implementation Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology, 2016; 87 (24): 2585-93.


  • Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.