5 Signs You May Have Restless Legs Syndrome

Find out more about the sign and symptoms of restless legs syndrome (RLS) including a strong urge to move and trouble sleeping.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) can be tricky to diagnose, largely because symptoms tend to be worse at night and less obvious in the healthcare provider's office.

RLS can appear or get worse during pregnancy, and is more common in those with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, or anemia. But it can strike people without those problems too.

In 2012, IRLSSG: International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group developed five diagnostic criteria that must be satisfied to diagnose RLS as noted in a 2018 study in the journal Cureus.

If you think you might have RLS, read on to learn the signs and symptoms that are used to diagnose this treatable condition.

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A Strong Urge To Move Your Legs

People who feel this urge say their need to move their legs is often accompanied by uncomfortable sensations.

Some words used to describe these sensations include creeping, itching, pulling, creepy-crawly, tugging, or gnawing.

Sometimes the urge to move occurs without the sensations described above. The arms or other body parts may also be involved in addition to the legs, as described in the 2018 Cureus study.

02 of 06

Symptoms Start or Get Worse at Rest

According to the 2018 Cureus study, the urge to move or unpleasant sensations begin or worsen during periods of rest or inactivity such as lying or sitting.

The longer you are at rest, the greater the chance the symptoms will occur and the more severe they are likely to be.

03 of 06

Moving Your Legs Improves Symptoms

If the uncomfortable sensations go away when you move or stretch your legs, it's another sign of RLS.

The relief can be complete or only partial but generally starts very soon after starting an activity. Relief persists as long as the movement continues.

04 of 06

Symptoms Are Worse in the Evening

Symptoms worsening in the evening is another one of the criteria necessary for an RLS diagnosis.

If your symptoms aren't worse at night, it may not be RLS. Some people with RLS, however, can have severe daytime symptoms too.

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Nothing Else Could Be Causing Your Symptoms

The final criteria for a diagnosis of RLS is that your symptoms can not solely accounted for by another medical or behavioral condition, such as leg cramps or habitual foot tapping.

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Supportive Criteria for Diagnosis of RLS

A substantial number of people who have RLS also have periodic limb movements in sleep (PLMS). According to a 2021 study in the journal StatPearls, 80% to 90% of patients with RLS will have PLMS.

PLMS are repetitive movements that occur every 20 to 30 seconds on and off throughout the night and can cause partial awakenings that disrupt sleep.

If you feel like these symptoms or others make it hard to fall or stay asleep, you're not alone—it's often one of the chief complaints among people with restless legs syndrome.

Other supportive criteria for a diagnosis of RLS include a family history of RLS and a positive response to dopaminergic drugs, which are drugs used to manage RLS, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

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