Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) FAQs
Reviewed by John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP on April 9, 2018
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- What kind of disorder is restless leg syndrome (RLS)?
- When symptoms of restless leg syndrome primarily occur?
- Who is most likely to suffer from RLS?
- RLS affects about 10% of Americans. True or False?
- What are triggers for RLS?
- People with RLS can expect symptoms to worsen over time. True or False?
- Treatment options for RLS are limited. True or False?
- How is RLS diagnosed?
- People with RLS may also suffer from periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) during sleep. True or False?
- Left untreated, RLS can cause what other conditions?
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Q:What kind of disorder is restless leg syndrome (RLS)?
A:Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is both a neurological disorder and a movement disorder.
It is considered neurological because it causes sensations in the legs such as throbbing, creeping, pulling, or other uncomfortable and unpleasant sensations, along with an uncontrollable urge to move the legs. RLS is also a movement disorder because people must move their legs to relieve the uncomfortable symptoms.
Q:When symptoms of restless leg syndrome primarily occur?
A:Restless leg syndrome symptoms usually occur at night while a person is resting or sleeping.
The symptoms of RLS tend to worsen during the early evening and become severe during the night. This can cause difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. A distinct aspect of RLS is that symptoms get worse at night but are absent in the early morning, and better sleep may occur during that time.
Q:Who is most likely to suffer from RLS?
Women are affected with restless leg syndrome two times more often than men.
Q:RLS affects about 10% of Americans. True or False?
Up to 10% of Americans experience restless leg syndrome. More than 5 million people - about 2% to 3% of adults - are affected with moderate to severe RLS. Another 5% of people have a mild form of the condition. Nearly 1 million school-aged children experience RLS and about 1/3 of them have moderate to severe symptoms.
Q:What are triggers for RLS?
A:Restless leg syndrome is often triggered by periods of inactivity, immobilization (such as a cast), or long flights or car rides.
Other triggers or conditions that are associated with RLS include obesity, smoking, use of alcohol or caffeine, diabetes, pregnancy, iron deficiency anemia, kidney failure, and nerve disease.
Q:People with RLS can expect symptoms to worsen over time. True or False?
Restless leg syndrome is a lifelong condition, and symptoms tend to worsen over time. Symptoms become more severe as people age, and people with other medical conditions may see a faster decline. Some people may experience periods of remission in which symptoms are minimal or absent, but symptoms usually reappear eventually.
Q:Treatment options for RLS are limited. True or False?
There are a number of treatment options for restless leg syndrome. If there is an underlying illness, that is treated first. Medications used to treat RLS include anti-anxiety medications, anticonvulsants, muscle relaxants, and pain medications.
In addition, some people find alternative and natural treatments or lifestyle changes helpful in easing symptoms. These include warm baths, avoiding or reducing alcohol and tobacco use, creating regular sleep patterns, leg massage, heating pads or ice packs, exercise, electric nerve stimulations, iron supplementation, oral magnesium, acupuncture, and tonic water.
Q:How is RLS diagnosed?
A:Specific criteria must be met.
Four specific criteria must be met for the diagnosis of restless leg syndrome in a person (adults or children), according to The National Institutes of Health. This includes:
- An uncontrollable or overwhelming urge to move your legs. Unpleasant feelings in your legs may also occur. In severe cases of RLS, people may experience an urge to move their arms.
- Symptoms begin or worsen with inactivity. The urge to move intensifies when sitting still or lying down and resting.
- Movement provides relief.
- Symptoms start or worsen in the evening or overnight.
Q:People with RLS may also suffer from periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) during sleep. True or False?
A more common condition called periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) is seen in more than 80% of people with restless leg syndrome. PLMD is a type of sleep disorder characterized by involuntary jerking movements during sleep, such as rhythmic movements of the legs or arms, every 15 to 40 seconds, often through the night. These movements differ from normal twitches and spasms that may occur when trying to fall asleep.
Q:Left untreated, RLS can cause what other conditions?
A:If restless leg syndrome is not treated, patients may experience daytime fatigue and exhaustion due to sleep deprivation.
This can also lead to insomnia, depression, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and even difficulty traveling. In children, untreated RLS can cause drowsiness, irritability, and hostility during the day.
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