Restless legs syndrome is a sensori-motor (movement) disorder characterized by uncomfortable sensations in the legs, which are worse during periods of inactivity or rest or while sitting or lying down. There is often a positive family history of the disorder. Individuals affected with the disorder describe the sensations as pulling, drawing, crawling, wormy, boring, tingling, pins and needles, prickly, and sometimes painful sensations that are usually accompanied by an overwhelming urge to move the legs. Sudden muscle jerks may also occur. Movement provides temporary relief from the discomfort. In rare cases, the arms may also be affected. Symptoms may interfere with sleep onset (sleep onset insomnia). Research suggests that restless legs syndrome is related to periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD), another more common motor disorder, which causes interrupted sleep. The symptoms often exhibit circadian rhythmicity in their peak occurrence during awakening hours.
Treatment for restless legs syndrome is symptomatic. Massage and application of cold compresses may provide temporary relief. Medications such as temazepam, levodopa/carbidopa, bromocriptine, pergolide mesylate, oxycodone, propoxyphene, and codeine are effective in relieving the symptoms. However, many of these medications have side effects. Current research suggests correction of iron deficiency may improve symptoms for some patients.
Restless legs syndrome is a life-long condition for which there is no cure. Symptoms may gradually worsen with age, and their most disabling feature is the sleep onset insomnia they cause, which can be severe.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) supports an extensive program of basic and clinical research aimed at discovering the mechanisms responsible for many motor disorders such as restless legs syndrome, especially those associated with sleep changes. The goal of this research is to discover ways to prevent, diagnose, treat, and, ultimately, find cures for motor disorders including restless legs syndrome.
National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
P.O. Box 8923 (100 Route 37)
New Fairfield, CT 06812-8923
Telephone: 203-746-6518 or 1-800-999-NORD (6673)
National Sleep Foundation
1522 K Street NW Suite 500
Washington, DC 20005
Telephone: 202-347-3471 (no public calls please)