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Restless legs syndrome (RLS)
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Restless legs syndrome (RLS)

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BRAIN & NERVOUS SYSTEM

Sleep

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a condition in which your legs feel extremely uncomfortable while you're sitting or lying down. The condition usually makes you feel like getting up and moving around. In doing so, the unpleasant feeling goes away.

The disorder affects both sexes, can begin at any age and may worsen as you get older. Restless legs syndrome can disrupt sleep - leading to daytime drowsiness - and make traveling difficult.

A number of simple self-care steps and lifestyle changes may benefit you. Medications also help many people with restless legs syndrome.

Screening and diagnosis

Some people with RLS never seek medical attention because they worry that their symptoms are too difficult to describe or won't be taken seriously. Some doctors wrongly attribute symptoms to nervousness, stress, insomnia or muscle cramps. But restless legs syndrome has received more media attention and focus from the medical community in recent years, making more people aware of the condition.

If you think you may have RLS, consult your family doctor. Doctors diagnose RLS by listening to your description of your symptoms and by reviewing your medical history. Your doctor will ask you questions such as:

  • Do you experience unpleasant or creepy, crawly sensations in your legs, tied to a strong urge to move?

  •  Does movement help relieve the sensations?

  • Are you more bothered by these sensations after sitting or at night?

  • Do you often have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?

  • Have you been told that you jerk your legs, or your arms, when asleep?

  • Is anyone else in your family bothered by restless legs?

There's no blood or lab test specifically for the diagnosis of RLS. Your answers help your doctor clarify whether you have RLS or whether testing is needed to rule out other conditions that may explain your symptoms. Blood tests or muscle or nerve studies may be necessary to pinpoint a diagnosis.

Your doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist for additional evaluation. This may require that you stay overnight at a sleep clinic, where doctors can study your sleep habits closely and check for leg twitching (periodic limb movements) during sleep — a possible sign of restless legs syndrome. However, a diagnosis of RLS usually doesn't require a sleep study.

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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Last Modified : 03/15/08 02:03 AM