What is Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)?

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) can occur during periods of relaxation or inactivity and may affect one or both legs. RLS symptoms are typically worse in the evening and night as compared to morning hours. RLS is a neurological disorder characterized by unpleasant sensations in the legs and an uncontrollable urge to move when at rest in an effort to relieve these feelings. RLS sensations are often described by people as burning, creeping, tugging, or like insects crawling inside the legs. The severity of the symptoms can vary from night to night or over a long period of time. Some individuals may experience symptoms daily; though for others there may be periods when they experience no symptoms at all.

The most distinctive or unusual aspect of the condition is that lying down and trying to relax activates the symptoms. As a result, most people with RLS have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Left untreated, the condition causes exhaustion and daytime fatigue. Many people with RLS report that their job, personal relations, and activities of daily living are strongly affected as a result of their exhaustion. They are often unable to concentrate, have impaired memory, or fail to accomplish daily tasks.

RLS is treatable and effective treatment can improve sleep quality, reduce daytime sleepiness, and improve the patient’s sense of well­being. 

How is Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)/Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD) Diagnosed?

RLS disorder is diagnosed clinically by evaluating the patient's history and symptoms. Despite a clear description of clinical features, the condition is often misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed. Unfortunately, there is no single diagnostic test for RLS.

Physicians must rely largely on patients' descriptions of symptoms and information from their medical history, including past medical problems, family history, and current medications. Patients may be asked about frequency, duration, and intensity of symptoms as well as their tendency toward daytime sleep patterns and sleepiness, disturbance of sleep, or daytime function.

In some cases, sleep studies such as polysomnography (a test that records the patient's brain waves, heartbeat, breathing and body movements, during an entire night) are undertaken to identify the presence of PLMD. Periodic Limb Movement Disorder differs from RLS, PLMD occurs only during sleep and is associated with frequent awakenings or arousals that can lead to daytime sleepiness, where as RLS occurs when a patient is awake. These PLMD’s can be associated with medications or sleep disordered breathing although the exact cause in unknown. Treatment can include correcting any sleep disordered breathing or medications.

EEG (electroencephalogram)

An EEG may be helpful for diagnosing or treating the following disorders:

  • Epilepsy or other seizure disorder
  • Head injury
  • Brain dysfunction that may have a variety of causes (encephalopathy)
  • Sleep disorders
  • Dementia

EEGs are safe and painless and available for anyone 2 years of age and older. All EEGs are interpreted by specialists at INI (Illinois Neurological Institute)