Restless Legs Syndrome

Legs | General Practice | Restless Legs Syndrome (Symptom)


Restless legs syndrome (RLS) or Willis-Ekbom disease is a neurological disorder characterized by an irresistible urge to move ones body to stop uncomfortable or odd sensations. It most commonly affects the legs, but can affect the arms, torso, and even phantom limbs. Moving the affected body part modulates the sensations, providing temporary relief.

Common signs and symptoms of restless legs syndrome include: uncomfortable sensations deep within the legs, accompanied by a strong urge to move them. The leg sensations are triggered by rest and get worse at night. The uncomfortable sensations temporarily get better when you move, stretch, or massage your legs and repetitive cramping or jerking of the legs during sleep.


No one knows the exact cause of RLS.

More than 60% of cases of RLS are familial and are inherited in an autosomal dominant fashion with variable penetrance. Pregnancy or hormonal changes may temporarily worsen RLS signs and symptoms whereas RLS sometimes accompanies other conditions, such as: peripheral neuropathy, iron deficiency and kidney failure.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Treatment of restless legs syndrome involves identifying the cause of symptoms when possible. The treatment process is designed to reduce symptoms, including decreasing the number of nights with RLS symptoms, the severity of RLS symptoms and nighttimes awakenings. Improving the quality of life is another goal in treatment. This means improving overall quality of life, decreasing daytime somnolence, and improving the quality of sleep. All of these goals are taken care of through nonpharmacologic and pharmacologic therapies.

Pharmacotherapy involves dopamine agonists or gabapentin enacarbil as first line drugs for daily restless legs syndrome and opioids for treatment of resistant cases.

RLS symptoms may gradually worsen with age, though more slowly for those with the idiopathic form of RLS than for patients who also suffer from an associated medical condition. Nevertheless, current therapies can control the disorder, minimizing symptoms and increasing periods of restful sleep.