5 Signs You May Have Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS), also called Willis-Ekbom Disease, is commonly known as a sleep disorder but is better characterized as a neurological sensory disorder. It causes unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them. 

RLS 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 also occur in people without those conditions.

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

A Strong Urge To Move Your Legs

IRLSSG said that people with RLS feel the urge to move their legs. This overwhelming need to move their legs is often accompanied by uncomfortable sensations. Some patients describe these sensations as creeping, itching, pulling, creepy-crawly, tugging, or gnawing.

Some patients may not feel the uncomfortable sensations described above. In some cases, the arms or other body parts may also be involved in addition to the legs, as described in the 2018 Cureus study.

Symptoms Start or Get Worse at Rest

According to the 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.

Moving Your Legs Improves Symptoms

Some patients report that the creeping, itching and other sensations can only be relieved by walking, stretching, or other movements. 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. Also, the study reported that the relief will persist as long as the movement continues.

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.

Nothing Else Could Be Causing Your Symptoms

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

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 2012 study in the journal Sleep, 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. PLMS can be associated with other disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea and narcolepsy.

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 the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).

A Quick Review

Restless Leg Syndrome is a sleep and neurological sensory disorder that causes unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them. 

RLS may be challenging to diagnose since symptoms worsen in the evening and are not always easy to spot during an evaluation. If you think you have signs or symptoms of RLS, reach out to your healthcare provider. RLS can be an unpleasant condition but it is also treatable.

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