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A female's legs that are laying in bed

What is Restless Legs Syndrome?

An estimated 1 in 10 adult Americans suffers from Restless Legs Syndrome, also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease. This medically-acknowledged neurological condition varies in severity from mild tingling in the legs to an intense irritation that can cause a severe disruption of sleep. Here, we review the symptoms of restless legs syndrome, as well as the causes, risk factors, and treatments.

What Causes Restless Leg Syndrome?

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a disorder of the nervous system that causes an irresistible urge to move the legs. Because this usually interferes with sleep, RLS is also considered a sleep disorder. In most cases, doctors cannot identify the exact cause of the disorder, but it is often attributed to genes and systemic factors, such as jobs that require prolonged periods of stillness.

Symptoms of Restless Legs

RLS is often unrecognized or misdiagnosed, especially if symptoms are mild. The main indicator of RLS is an uncomfortable sensation in the legs that triggers an irresistible urge to move them. Sufferers experience an itchy, “pins-and-needles” sensation that does not diminish until the individual finally stretches or paces in an effort to achieve relief. Then, when the individual returns to a resting position, the symptoms begin again. Many people will not seek help for fear that their condition will not be taken seriously. Symptoms are also frequently misdiagnosed as nervousness, stress, muscle spasms, old age, or arthritis.

Risk Factors of RSL

RLS affects around 5 million American adults and over 1 million school-aged children. Although both sexes are affected, it is more common in women than men. Most severe cases occur in those who are middle-aged or older. Other risk factors which may trigger symptoms or make them worse include:

  • Certain medications, such as antihistamines and antidepressants
  • Pregnancy
  • Alcohol/smoking
  • Diabetes or other diseases
  • Venous Insufficiency

Career type also plays a factor, with truck drivers, frequent flyers, and those who spend long hours sitting at desks at high risk for the condition.


There are many options available for Restless Leg Syndrome treatment, although unfortunately, it is rare that the condition can be eliminated completely. Usually, treatment is targeted toward reducing symptoms. These may include:

  • Leg massages
  • Hot baths
  • Heating pads or ice packs
  • Compression sleeves
Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, decreased use of caffeine and alcohol, and establishment of a regular sleep pattern can also provide relief of symptoms. Certain medications and pain relievers may be effective as well.