Restless Legs Syndrome

What is restless legs syndrome?

The restless legs syndrome is a condition involving the sensory system. People with restless legs syndrome feel strange, uncomfortable sensations in their legs which can cause a strong urge to move. Restless legs syndrome becomes more common with age, and tends to affect women more commonly than men. Although the cause is not well understood, in some cases a medication or medical condition may be the cause. The diagnosis is usually based on an examination of the symptoms. Treatment for restless legs syndrome may involve short-term measures, lifestyle changes and medications, all of which can improve the immediate symptoms or help to reduce the frequency of the symptoms. The outlook after diagnosis with restless syndrome varies from mild and manageable symptoms to severe symptoms that continue to get worse over time.


Restless legs syndrome is a condition which the sensory system. Sensory signals with no further purpose are sent from the legs to the brain. The cause of restless legs syndrome is not known, but it is thought that low levels of a chemical called dopamine in the brain messaging system may be responsible. Around half of the people with restless legs syndrome have a family member with the condition, so there may be a genetic cause. Antidepressant and antihistamine medications can cause restless legs syndrome or aggravate the symptoms in someone who has already been diagnosed with this condition. Some other medical conditions are also associated with restless legs syndrome, such as iron deficiency, pregnancy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and kidney failure. Restless legs syndrome becomes more common with age, and tends to affect women more commonly than men.


The most common symptom of restless legs syndrome is the presence of strange, uncomfortable sensations in the legs or, less commonly, in the arms, which cause an urge to move. These sensations vary from person to person, but are often described as a crawling, tingling, cramping, itching or pulling sensation. The sensations can be anywhere in the leg, but are commonly felt between the knee and ankle. The sensations usually most noticeable when the body is resting and become less bothersome during periods of movement. Rubbing or stretching the leg may also help alleviate them. People with restless legs syndrome often have difficulty sleeping, which causes headaches, difficulty concentrating and memory problems,


The diagnosis can usually be made based on the symptoms and physical examination. A symptom diary may help confirm the diagnosis. Further tests may be needed to exclude other causes of the symptoms and to test for any underlying conditions which may be causing the restless legs syndrome.


There are several approaches to treating restless legs syndrome. Simple steps to help relieve symptoms include taking a warm shower, stretching or rubbing the area, taking gentle exercise, such as walking or yoga, and distracting the mind by reading or doing some other activity. Some people find that a warm or vibrating pad in bed helps with sleeping. People with mild symptoms may find that making some lifestyle changes helps to reduce symptoms over time. These include avoiding alcohol and caffeine, taking regular exercise and giving up smoking. Treatments for restless legs syndrome include medications that balance out dopamine levels in the brain, sleeping medications and pain-relieving medications. If an underlying condition is the cause of the condition, this should be diagnosed and treated or managed.

Other names for restless legs syndrome

  • Anxietas tibiarum
  • Leg jitters
  • Willis-Ekbom disease