What is restless legs syndrome (RLS)?
This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation
RLS is a serious condition that has affected people for many years, but it has not always been taken seriously, and is often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Approximately 10 percent of American adults1 suffer from this neurological sensorimotor disorder, which causes uncomfortable and sometimes painful tingling, and tugging sensations in the legs. People with RLS often feel as though they have to move their legs, by walking or stretching, in order to make the uncomfortable feelings go away. These sensations tend to get worse with inactivity, sitting for a long time or even just relaxing, like when watching television or taking a long car ride. Because the symptoms usually intensify in the evening and at night, they often interfere with the ability to sleep. In July of 2007, researchers discovered a gene variant for RLS, which helps explain why it may be traced through generations in families. Researchers believe this gene increases one’s risk for a type of hereditary RLS, known as primary or familial RLS. There are two types of RLS – primary and secondary. And while there is extensive research into the origin of RLS being conducted worldwide, there is no single known cause for the condition.
- Primary RLS is the most common type of RLS. It is also referred to as familial (because it is hereditary) or idiopathic (because the causes are unknown) RLS.
- Secondary RLS, on the other hand, is believed to be caused by a separate underlying medical condition or in association with the use of certain drugs. For example, some of these conditions include kidney failure, low levels of iron or anemia, pregnancy, and peripheral neuropathy (a problem with the nerves that carry information to and from the brain and spinal cord that produces pain, loss of sensation, and inability to control muscles). Stress, diet or other environmental factors can also play a role in developing secondary RLS.
RLS is a condition that can affect anyone; it does not discriminate among age, sex or race Symptoms can start at any age, and many people with RLS remember their first experience with RLS from childhood and being told they were just having “growing pains.” RLS symptoms tend to get worse and occur more frequently with age, especially if they began in childhood or as a young adult. While there is currently no cure for RLS, in most cases, the symptoms can be controlled through lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, and in some cases medical treatments. People with RLS should speak with a health care professional about how to best manage their symptoms. Some people with RLS will not seek medical attention, believing that they will not be taken seriously, that their symptoms are too mild, or that the condition is not treatable. Some health care professionals inaccurately attribute the symptoms to nervousness, insomnia, stress, arthritis, muscle cramps or aging. Hopefully, the information and tools included on this site will help you and your health care professional have an informed conversation.