Restless Leg Syndrome | RLS | What is Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless Leg Syndrome(RLS)

Restless Leg Syndrome Overview

Restless leg syndrome is a common cause of painful legs.

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder in which patients experience irrepressible sensations in the legs or arms while sitting or lying still.

Terms used to describe Restless leg syndrome may include creepy, crawly, pulling, tingling, itching, or gnawing.

Often the person with Restless leg syndrome has difficulty being specific about the sensations in their legs.

The sensations are rarely described as painful. The leg pain of restless leg syndrome typically eases with motion of the legs and becomes more noticeable at rest. Restless leg syndrome differs from the "pins and needles" feeling when the blood supply is cut off from a limb ("My foot fell asleep!").

Restless leg syndrome also features worsening of symptoms during the early evening or later at night. The characteristic nighttime worsening of symptoms in persons with restless legs syndrome frequency leads to insomnia.

Restless leg syndrome usually begins slowly. Over time, the legs become more affected. Less frequently, restless leg syndrome can affect the arms.

Excessive Daytime Sleepiness during the day due to sleep deprivation can be one result of Restless leg syndrome.

Because those with Restless leg syndrome have a constant need to stretch or move their limbs to get rid of the uncomfortable feelings, sleep is often disturbed.

Severe Restless leg syndrome also limits certain activities because of the confinement of traveling in a car or airplane, sitting through a meeting, or watching a movie. These individuals find it nearly impossible to sit without moving for any length of time.

Anxiety and depression are often associated with Restless leg syndrome. Approximately 80 percent of people with Restless leg syndrome also suffer from Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD).

People often describe the uncomfortable sensations that accompany the urge to move as:

  • prickly,
  • tingly,
  • sometimes painful,
  • creeping,
  • tugging, or
  • like insects crawling inside your legs.

The sensations most commonly occur in the calf area, but can be felt anywhere in one or both legs. Some people also experience the discomfort in their feet, arms or hands. People with Restless leg syndrome generally have trouble going to sleep. 

Feeling a need for constant movement, many people delay trying to go to sleep and may instead pace or move their legs to prevent the feelings of restless legs.

According to the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation, Restless leg syndrome is generally grouped into the following classifications:

  • Primary or familial: when Restless leg syndrome is found to run in a family.
  • Secondary: when Restless leg syndrome appears to be the result of another condition such as pregnancy, low iron levels, or chronic disease.
  • Idiopathic: when there is no family history of Restless leg syndrome and no known associated conditions.

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