Restless legs syndrome (RLS), also known as Wittmaack–Ekbom syndrome, is a neurological disorder characterized by unpleasant sensations in the legs and an uncontrollable, and sometimes overwhelming, urge to move them for relief.
RLS may start at any age, including childhood, and is a progressive disease for some, while the symptoms may disappear permanently in others. More than 60% of cases of RLS are familial and are inherited in an autosomal dominant fashion with variable penetrance.
No one knows the exact cause of RLS.
Individuals affected with the disorder often describe the sensations as throbbing, polling, or creeping. The sensations range in severity from uncomfortable to irritating to painful. Some experience RLS only at bedtime, while others experience it throughout the day and night. Most sufferers experience the worst symptoms in the evening and the least in the morning.
RLS is generally a life-long condition for which there is no cure. Symptoms may gradually worsen with age. Nevertheless, current therapies can control the disorder, minimizing symptoms and increasing periods of restful sleep. In addition, some individuals have remissions, periods in which symptoms decrease or disappear for days, weeks, or months, although symptoms usually eventually reappear.
For those with mild to moderate symptoms, many physicians suggest certain lifestyle changes and activities to reduce or eliminate symptoms. Decreased use of caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco may provide some relief. Physicians may suggest that certain individuals take supplements to correct deficiencies in iron, folate, and magnesium. Taking a hot bath, massaging the legs, or using a heating pad or ice pack can help relieve symptoms in some patients.
Physicians also may suggest a variety of medications to treat RLS, including dopaminergics, benzodiazepines (central nervous system depressants), opioids, and anticonvulsants. The drugs ropinirole and pramipexole may be prescribed to treat moderate to severe RLS.