Restless Legs Syndrome Diagnosis


This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation

Could you have restless legs syndrome? Learn more about the symptoms so you can talk to your doctor.

The symptoms of restless legs syndrome (RLS) are often difficult to put into words, as each person’s experience with RLS is different. Some people use comparisons, such as “like ants crawling through my legs” or “like soda running through my veins” to try to describe the symptoms and feelings to their heath care professionals. If you answer “yes” to many of the following questions,8 you may have RLS and should talk to your health care professional about your symptoms:

  • When you sit or lie down, do you have a strong desire to move your legs?
  • Does your desire to move your legs feel impossible to resist?
  • Have you ever used the words unpleasant, creepy-crawly, creeping, itching, pulling, or tugging to describe your symptoms?
  • Does your desire to move often occur when you are resting or sitting still?
  • Does moving your legs make you feel better or slow down the symptoms?
  • Do you have more of these symptoms at night?
  • Have you kept your bed partner awake with jerking movements in your legs?
  • Do you ever have involuntary leg movements while you are awake?
  • Are you tired or unable to concentrate during the day?
  • Do any of your family members have similar symptoms?
  • Has a trip to the health care professional not revealed any physical cause for your discomfort?

If you do have RLS, you are not alone! Up to 10 percent of the U.S. adult population may have RLS.1 Many people have a mild or moderate form of the condition, but RLS severely affects the lives of millions of individuals.8 In 2003 the International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group (IRLSSG), in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), identified four main characteristics of RLS that help to make a diagnosis.14 When you go to your health care professional, he or she may use the following criteria to help determine whether or not you have RLS:

  1. You have an urge to move your legs usually accompanied by uncomfortable leg sensations. These sensations are different from muscle cramps and numbness, and are often described as burning, creeping, crawling, aching or tugging. Usually starting in the lower legs, symptoms can spread to other parts of the body, such as the feet, chest, and arms. While often described as uncomfortable or irritating, some people experience pain with these sensations.
  2. Your symptoms are partially or totally relieved by movement. By moving or stretching, the unpleasant sensations can be partially or totally relieved. The kinds of movements that help are often repetitive, such as pacing, rocking or shaking.
  3. Your symptoms begin or worsen during rest such as lying or sitting. Often people will experience RLS symptoms when inactive or not moving around. Lying down, traveling in a plane, or sitting through a movie are examples of situations when RLS may occur. While moving the affected limb can lessen the symptoms, once at rest the symptoms can intensify again.
  4. Your symptoms are worse in the evening or night. There is a typical timing to the intensity or concentration of RLS symptoms. In the early morning, people with RLS often find some relief from the unpleasant sensations. However, as the day continues, symptoms get increasingly worse. Throughout the night, these irritating sensations and feelings often reach their peak.

In order to help you initiate a conversation with your health care professional, we have included an RLS Symptom Diary and RLS Symptom Diary Summary. Click here to record your RLS symptoms.