Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

Restless Legs Syndrome is an uncontrollable urge and uncomfortable sensation in the legs (or possibly arms) that can only be relieved by stretching or moving them. It has been described as a creepy, crawly feeling, and most often occurs when a person is lying or sitting still in the evening. This continuous need to stretch or move can cause insomnia or delay sleep onset, which in turn leads to excessive daytime sleepiness and the inability to function optimally during the day. Ultimately, the irritable sensations can lead to anxiety and depression.

Periodic Limb Movements of Sleep (PLMS)

Periodic Limb Movement Disorder is similar to RLS, but occurs while a person is asleep. It is an involuntary movement of a section of the limbs that occurs at least four times in a row. This includes anything from an extension of the big toe to a flex of the knee or hip in some cases. The intervals between each movement are usually regular (20-40 seconds), and these movements usually cluster at the beginning of the night. Because a certain number of limb movements per night are considered normal, a diagnosis of PLMD is not made unless the patient has symptoms of restless legs syndrome.

How common are RLS and PLMD?

80% of the people that have RLS will display PLMD as well, however there are many people who display PLMD that do not claim to have RLS. Restless Leg Syndrome affects anywhere from 5 -15% of the population at some point in their lives. It is more common in older individuals, but can occur in both men and women at any age. Periodic Limb Movement Disorder is rare in people under 30 and only affects a very small percent of the population between 30 and 50. This increases to one third of the population over 50, and nearly half of the people over 65.

Treatment Options

There are home remedies that provide relief for some RLS sufferers. These include a hot bath, heat and ice packs, massaging the affected area, pain relievers, regular exercise and the elimination of caffeine and tobacco. When these methods are not effective, patients might benefit from blood check and treatment. Because sufferers often respond to certain medications differently, your physician may try several different drugs over a period of time to see which is most effective.

Some sufferers of PLMD are able to sleep through the leg movements without any arousals, and do not warrant any treatment. However, many patients experience repetitive "micro-arousals" throughout the night, preventing them from getting restorative sleep.

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is a sensorimotor disorder characterized by a complaint of a strong nearly irresistible, urge to move the legs. Patients may complain of involuntary jerking or twitching movements of he legs while sitting or lying awake.

If you have any symptoms or would like more information about sleep disorders call us at 713-441-3961 or e-mail us at sleep@houstonmethodist.org

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Restless Legs Syndrome