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Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) is considered a sleep disorder because it occurs when a person is at rest and it often interferes with getting a good night’s sleep. Restless legs syndrome is treated by neurologists who are board-certified in specialized sleep medicine training at the Washington University Sleep Medicine Center.

Understanding Restless Legs Syndrome

RLS is a sensory disorder that causes an almost irresistible urge to move the legs. The urge to move is usually due to unpleasant feelings in the legs that occur when at rest.

Individuals with RLS use words such as creeping, crawling, tingling, or burning to describe these sensations.

RLS symptoms can range from mild to severe, based on:

  • How much discomfort you have in your legs and arms
  • Whether you feel the need to move your extremities
  • How much relief you get from moving around
  • Your level of sleep disturbance
  • How tired or sleepy you are during the day
  • Frequency of your symptoms
  • The severity of your symptoms on most days
  • Your ability to carry out daily activities
  • How angry, depressed, sad, anxious, or irritable you feel

RLS can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. People with RLS often don’t get enough sleep and may feel tired and sleepy during the day. While moving the legs eases the feelings, it provides only short-term relief. The unpleasant feelings also may occur in the arms.

There are two types of RLS:

  • Primary RLS is the most common type and is also called idiopathic RLS. Primary means the cause is not known. Primary RLS, once it starts, usually becomes a lifelong condition. Over time, symptoms tend to get worse and occur more often, especially if they began in childhood or early in adult life. In milder cases, there may be long periods of time with no symptoms, or symptoms may last only for a limited time.
  • Secondary RLS is caused by another disease process or condition. Sometimes RLS can occur as a side-effect from taking certain medicines. Symptoms usually go away when the disease or condition improves, or when the offending medicine is stopped.

RLS symptoms often improve with medical treatment. Also, there are some simple self-care approaches and lifestyle changes that can help in mild cases.

For a referral to a Washington University neurologist or neurosurgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 855.925.0631.

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