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Restless legs syndrome is a neurological disorder that causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs, accompanied by a strong urge to move them. Symptoms tend to strike at night, which leads sufferers to lose precious sleep. Over time, sleep deprivation can lead to a range of other health complications, so it’s important to seek medical attention when symptoms like fatigue and anxiety recur or worsen.

Signs and Symptoms

The name itself—restless leg syndrome—is an accurate description of the condition, which is characterized by a persistent, unpleasant feeling in the legs or other extremities. The sensation is often described as crawling, throbbing, aching or pulling, and the severity can vary from patient to patient. Some patients experience symptoms infrequently, while others find themselves overwhelmed with discomfort every time they sleep or sit for an extended period of time. This can make activities such as watching a movie, taking a plane ride or sleeping difficult.

Testing and Treatment

In order to pinpoint the underlying cause of your condition, your doctor will conduct a physical and neurological exam. Depending on your specific symptoms, other tests, such as bloodwork, may be necessary. Your doctor may also refer you to a sleep specialist for a sleep study. A polysomnogram, or sleep study, is a comprehensive test that transmits and records specific physical activities while you sleep, such as your heart rate, brain activity, eye movement and oxygen levels through a series of electronic sensors placed on your legs, head and chest. RLS can only be detected during in-lab sleep studies, so home sleep testing would not be appropriate for this condition.

If the sleep study indicates RLS, treatment will likely involve lifestyle adjustments, medication or both. Different types of drugs, from muscle relaxants to sleep medications, may help alleviate symptoms caused by restless leg syndrome. It’s important to understand that medications affect people in different ways, and it may take several trials for you and your doctor to perfect your treatment regimen.

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