Restless legs syndrome (also called RLS) is a condition in which your legs feel very uncomfortable when you are sitting or lying down. It affects both men and women and can occur at any age (including during childhood), but often worsens with age and becomes a problem for older adults. RLS can make sleeping and traveling difficult and uncomfortable. Some cases of RLS are related to other conditions, such as pregnancy, iron-deficiency anemia or kidney failure. Other cases of RLS have no known cause. RLS may be hereditary, which means it can run in your family.
People who have RLS often say it's difficult to describe their symptoms. If you have RLS, you may have a "creepy-crawly" feeling in your legs that makes you want to move around. You may experience achy, tingly or burning sensations in your legs, which can make it difficult to sleep or sit for long periods of time. Moving your legs makes the feeling go away for a few minutes, but it comes back after you sit or lie still again. Your legs may also twitch when you try and sleep (also called periodic limb movements of sleep or PLMS).
Tell your doctor about the restless sensations. He or she will ask you questions about your symptoms, such as when they start and whether you're able to do anything to make them go away. He or she may also ask if any other people in your family have similar symptoms.
Tell your doctor about any medicines (including over-the-counter medicines) that you're taking. Certain medicines can make RLS symptoms worse. Your doctor can recommend another medicine if this seems to be happening to you.
Treatment for RLS includes medicines and lifestyle changes. See the box for a list of things that you can do at home to help relieve your symptoms.
Medicines used to treat Parkinson's disease can help reduce tremors and twitching in the legs. If your iron levels are low, your doctor may prescribe an iron supplement. Sleep aids, muscle relaxants (called benzodiazepines) and pain medicines (called opioids) may also relieve symptoms. In some cases, an anticonvulsant medicine (usually used to stop seizures) can be helpful. For many cases of RLS, a combination of medicines is usually needed to best treat the condition. Your doctor may prescribe several trials of medicine before finding one that works best for your case of RLS.
Keep your doctor posted on how you're feeling. He or she can suggest different relaxation techniques and can change your medicine if it's not helping. You may want to join a support group to talk to other people who are suffering from RLS. Also, because RLS tends to run in families, you may want to talk to your relatives about your RLS and see if they have similar symptoms.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff