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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Restless legs syndrome

Mate waewae tāhurihuri

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a problem where you feel the need to move your legs due to uncomfortable or unpleasant feelings in them. It happens when you're trying to sleep or have not moved around for a while.

RLS is much more common in women than men, and it often gets worse as you get older. Although not a worrying medical condition, it can cause you to have trouble getting to sleep. It can also affect the quality of your sleep.

Symptoms of RLS

The most common symptom is a strong urge to move your legs and sometimes other parts of your body. It might only happen some evenings (mild RLS) or it might happen every evening and night, disturbing your sleep (severe RLS).

You may also get unpleasant sensations in your legs, such as pins and needles or prickling.

The feelings start after you lie down to sleep or haven’t moved for a while. For example, when you're travelling. Moving will usually make you feel better.

RLS is different from leg cramps, or periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMS) where you have regular repeated movements in your sleep.

Causes of RLS

The exact cause of RLS is uncertain though there may be a genetic link as it runs in families.

Several medical conditions are associated with RLS:

Pregnancy can also be linked with RLS. It usually gets better after the baby is born.

Some medicines may cause RLS, for example, some antidepressants, sedating antihistamines and antipsychotics such as haloperidol, quetiapine and olanzapine.

Diagnosing RLS

Your doctor will usually diagnose RLS from your symptoms. Sometimes, they will ask you to have a blood test to check for a contributing problem.

Treating RLS

If you have a medical condition causing or aggravating RLS, such as iron deficiency, treating it may make your RLS go away. Your doctor may advise a change of medication if they think a side effect from a medicine is responsible.

If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may suggest medication for RLS.

Self-care for RLS

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2022.


Page reference: 46286

Review key: HISLE-11928