Feeling mild COVID-19 symptoms? For the safety of our community, you do NOT need to visit the emergency department unless critical symptoms are experienced. Visit our COVID-19 hub to learn more. Visit the COVID-19 Hub

Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless Limb Syndrome  

Restless limb syndrome is a term for neurological disorders known as periodic limb movement disorder and restless legs syndrome. 

Restless limb syndrome is an umbrella term that encompasses these neurological movement disorders: 

  • Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD) – PLMD is a neurological condition during which the arms or legs of a person twitch or kick repeatedly during sleep.  
  • Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) - Also known as also called Willis-Ekbom disease, RLS is a sensorimotor disorder that causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs or arms, resulting in the irresistible urge to move them. This condition occurs in people who are awake, though it can afflict people during the nighttime and affect sleep. The condition affects about 5% of the U.S. population, and more than 80% of people with RLS also suffer from PLMD. 

Causes of Restless Limb Syndrome 

The exact causes of restless limb syndrome are unknown.  

Risk factors for PLMD and RLS include: 

  • Being middle aged or older  
  • Iron deficiency anemia  
  • Having a family history of RLS  
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle 
  • Being obese 
  • Smoking 
  • Being pregnant, especially in the last trimester 
  • Using antipsychotics, antidepressants and other medications
  • Using caffeine, alcohol and nicotine 
  • Having other neurologic conditions that affect the brain’s dopamine pathways, such as Parkinson’s disease   

Symptoms of Restless Limb Syndrome 

Because periodic limb movement disorder occurs during sleep, a bed partner typically recognizes the symptoms of another.  

Symptoms of PLMD can include: 

  • Repetitive twitching or kicking of the arms or legs every 20-40 seconds while sleeping 
  • Lack of abnormal sensations in the arms or legs 
  • Insomnia 
  • Interrupted sleep patterns 
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue 

Symptoms of restless legs syndrome can vary in severity and frequency. On the moderate end of the spectrum, symptoms may occur once or twice per week. However, in severe cases of RLS, symptoms can arise more than two times per week and cause extreme interruption to normal sleep patterns and significantly affect daytime living and functioning.  

Symptoms of RLS can include:

  • An irresistible urge to move, especially when sitting or lying down  
  • A creeping, crawling, throbbing or itching sensation (paresthesias) that can affect both sides of the body and is only relieved by moving the affected limb 
  • Pain  
  • Difficulty falling and staying asleep  
  • Sleep deprivation and exhaustion 
  • Inability to concentrate 
  • Poor memory 
  • Inability to accomplish daily tasks 
  • Depression 

Diagnosing Restless Limb Syndrome 

Because PLMD occurs during sleep, an official diagnosis requires a polysomnography, or a sleep study. 

There are no specific tests for RLS, so the condition is typically diagnosed by a doctor’s physical and neurological evaluation of a patient and review of a patient’s medical history. 

Treatments for Restless Limb Syndrome 

Treating PLMD and RLS is largely the same, focused on the use of medications such as dopamine agonists to relieve symptoms. A doctor may also recommend regular exercise, massage and eliminating caffeine, alcohol and tobacco.  

The world-class neurologists and sleep disorder specialists at Tampa General Hospital’s Neuroscience Institute take a multidisciplinary approach to diagnose and treat patients with restless limb syndrome, keeping each patient’s overall health and personal preferences in mind.