Restless legs syndrome: What you need to know

by | Jun 6, 2023

You’ve been having strange sensations in your legs and overpowering urges to move them. You can’t even sleep anymore. “Do I have restless legs syndrome?” Here’s what you need to know…

Do you think there’s a relationship between RLS, depression, and anxiety? Sure is. And one incites the other.

Restless legs syndrome can turn lives upside down.

If you’re one of the tens of millions struggling, or think you may be, here’s what you need to know. In fact, there are so many need to knows that we’ll go with a two-part series.

Let’s get after defining restless legs syndrome, reviewing its symptoms, and who’s more likely to have it. And we’ll come back in part-two with causes and what to do about it.

Off with us…

What is restless legs syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS), also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, is a neurological disorder characterized by unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them. It can also affect other parts of the body.

The occurrence rate of RLS in North America and Europe is 7-10%. It’s believed to be quite a bit lower in Middle Eastern and East Asian countries.

What are the symptoms of restless legs syndrome?

Here are the primary symptoms – characteristics – of RLS…

  • Sensations – aching, crawling, tingling, itching, throbbing, pain, burning, tugging – that typically begin after being inactive and sitting for extended periods of time.
  • Relief of discomfort with movement of the legs (or other affected body part). Keeping them in motion may minimize or prevent the sensations. It may come down to pacing the floor or constant movement while sitting.
  • Worsening of symptoms at night with a distinct symptom-free period early in the morning.
  • Difficulty falling and staying asleep, which can worsen with a reduction of sleep due to events or activity.

With moderately severe RLS, symptoms may only occur once or twice a week, but often result in significant delay of sleep onset with some disruption of daytime functioning.

Periods of remission may occur for weeks or months, especially during the early stages of the disorder. But not only are they likely to reappear, they can become worse over time.

By the way, can you see why RLS is considered both a sleep and movement disorder?

Severe cases

who is more likely to have restless legs syndrome

“I love this show, but enough’s enough. It’s time to see the doc.”

Some 3% of RLS cases are considered severe, which means intense and persistent symptoms occur more than twice a week.

In addition to sensations and movement, mental distress, insomnia, and daytime sleepiness may present. And since RLS is worse when resting, those with severe cases may avoid daily activities that involve long periods of sitting.

But that’s not all. Sufferers of severe RLS are more apt to isolate socially and experience frequent daytime headaches, compromised memory, impaired concentration, and libido issues.

Do you think there’s a relationship between RLS, depression, and anxiety? Sure is. And one incites the other.

Who is more likely to have restless legs syndrome?

Just like our specialty, the mood and anxiety disorders, the root cause of RLS is unknown. When that’s the case, triggers help us identify who’s more likely to have a disorder.

Let’s take a look…

  • Family history of RLS
  • Neuropathy
  • Sleep deprivation and other sleep conditions, such as sleep apnea
  • Use of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine
  • Pregnancy or hormonal changes, especially in the last trimester. In most cases, symptoms disappear within four weeks post-delivery.
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Medications, such as anti-nausea drugs, antipsychotics, antidepressants that increase serotonin, cold and allergy medications that contain older antihistamines (e.g., chlorphenamine, doxylamine, hydroxyzine)
  • Iron deficiency, even without a diagnosis of anemia
  • End-stage renal disease and hemodialysis

Heads up, right?

Come on back for part two

That’ll do it for part one. Whether you know you have restless leg syndrome or you’re considering the possibility, the information will lend you a hand.

And now we need to talk about cause and treatment. Come on back for part two.

For even more information and support, check in with the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation.

If you’re interested in participating in a clinical trial for RLS, or any other disorder, start with NIH Clinical Trials and You. When you’re ready to find a trial, visit

Thanks to the following for the info:, University of Maryland Medical Center, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

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