Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS; also known as Willis-Ekbom disease) is a neurological disorder characterized by a strong, almost irresistible urge to move your legs when you are awake; the symptoms are usually worse when you are resting, particularly when sitting or lying down . It is categorized as a sensorimotor condition because it involves nerves that transmit sensations and command the muscles to move. RLS causes your leg muscles to jerk or twitch and feel uncomfortable. Moving often eases the feeling temporarily.

The sensations which may occur deep within your leg (not on the skin) have been described as crawling, creeping, pulling, throbbing, aching or itching; lots of people refer to the feeling as beyond description.

Symptoms of RLS may vary in severity and they may disappear for periods of time, then return. Researchers suspect that RLS may be caused by an imbalance in dopamine, a brain chemical that used to control muscle movement, but the cause is not known at this time. RLS may run in families and pregnancy can bring on symptoms but they usually disappear after delivery.

RLS may affect as many as 10 percent of adults.

Diagnosis  of Restless Legs Syndrome
RLS can be caused by such underlying medical conditions as peripheral neuropathy (damage to nerves in hands and feet due to such diseases as diabetes), iron deficiency, varicose veins, thyroid problems or kidney failure, so we will ask about your medical history and a description of your symptoms to determine what the cause of RLS may be for you. Our team will determine whether you meet the evaluation criteria for RLS:
  • An almost irresistible urge to move your legs
  • Uncomfortable tingling or crawling feeling in the muscles of your legs
  • Symptoms that are worse at night and are absent or barely noticeable the next day
  • Partial or temporary relief from activity such as walking or stretching
  • Occurs mostly at night

We may conduct a physical and a neurological exam and order blood tests for iron deficiency. Occasionally, our team will refer you to a sleep specialist for more tests. 

Treatment of RLS should only begin after other possible medical causes are eliminated; if RLS is caused by a treatable medical condition, the symptoms may disappear once the underlying cause has been resolved.

Treatment Options for Restless Legs Syndrome
Our neurologists and sleep specialists diagnose and offer treatment options unique to each patient’s condition. You may get relief  from a hot bath, heat and ice packs, massage, pain relievers, regular exercise, eliminating caffeine and tobacco and meditation and yoga.  

When these methods do not provide adequate relief, one of several medications may be effective. This option includes medicines that increase dopamine in the brain (pramipexole), affect calcium channels (gabapentin) and opiates and muscle relaxants. Because everyone responds to medication differently, several different drugs may be tried before the one that works best for you is identified.


Our physicians at Houston Methodist specialize in managing restless legs syndrome at the following convenient locations: