Restless Leg Syndrome
An abnormal urge to move the legs or arms, unpleasant feeling in your calves, thighs, or feet
Sleep specialists at the Aurora BayCare Sleep Wake Center diagnose and treat restless leg syndrome and other sleep disorders so you can experience quality sleep…and quality days.
People often have difficulty describing the symptoms of restless leg syndrome (RLS). RLS symptoms typically produce an abnormal urge to move the legs or arms, unpleasant feeling in your calves, thighs, or feet. While difficult to describe, RLS symptoms have some common attributes:
- Symptoms are more noticeable and pronounced in the evening.
- Symptoms are more likely to occur when you’ve been sitting for a long period of time, or lying down.
- Symptoms improve with movement.
When experiencing RLS symptoms, individuals express a strong desire to move or handle their legs. It's common for symptoms to fluctuate in frequency and severity and then occasionally disappear for periods of time.
Restless leg syndrome can make it difficult to fall asleep or to get quality sleep. It can cause your partner to lose sleep as well. Periodic Limb Movement Disorder may be related to RLS and involves kicking or moving of your legs or arms during sleep.
Possible Causes for RLS
There is little clear information as to what causes RLS. However, there are patterns that might explain who is more likely to develop RLS.
- Heredity – RLS appears to run in families in about 50% of patients with RLS.
- Pregnancy – some women experience RLS for the first time during pregnancy.The symptoms abate after delivery.
In addition, RLS seems to accompany other conditions, including:
- Peripheral neuropathy – damage to the nerves in hands and feet is prevalent in those with diabetes or alcoholism.
- Iron deficiency – iron deficiency can cause RLS or make RLS symptoms worse.
- Kidney failure – iron deficiency and anemia may be problematic when kidneys do not function properly. This may cause RLS or make RLS symptoms worse.
- Heart disease and stroke – people with RLS are twice as likely to suffer stroke or heart disease.
Doctors typically diagnose RLS by listening to you describe your symptoms. A sleep specialist may run other tests to rule out other sleep disorders. During a sleep study, sensors monitor your leg movement.
If possible, your doctor will treat an underlying cause of RLS. For instance, if iron deficiency is an underlying cause, you may take iron supplements. (Note: iron supplements should only be used in consultation with your doctor.) Likewise, if peripheral neuropathy is a possible underlying cause, then lifestyle changes may alleviate or minimize RLS symptoms. Medication may be an option if other treatments do not work.