about rls

Learn about Restless Legs and PLMD

In this section we cover:

  • What is Restless Legs Syndrome?
  • How do I know if I have Restless Legs Syndrome?
  • Do I also have periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD)?
  • Who experiences RLS?
  • What is the cause?
  • Primary and secondary RLS
  • Pregnancy and RLS
  • Medications can cause RLS
  • Is there a cure for RLS?
  • RLS stops you from sleeping



What is Restless Legs Syndrome?

Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) produces unusual feelings in the legs which are so uncomfortable that sufferers are unable to sleep or are woken during sleep.

Millions of people are affected by RLS. It is also referred to as Willis Ekbom Disease.


How do I know if I have Restless Legs Syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome can be difficult to describe but most sufferers would agree on this general definition: it causes uncomfortable or unpleasant sensations in the legs, together with an overwhelming urge to move them, to get relief from these sensations.

The symptoms occur mainly in the evening when a person is relaxing, sitting or lying down. They can also occur at other times of inactivity such as a long car trip or watching a movie.

Moving the legs can relieve the discomfort but often only for a short time, even as short as a few seconds, before the sensations start again. This can interfere with getting to sleep and cause people to wake in the night.

The sensations experienced by RLS sufferers can vary and are hard to describe as they are so different from any other feelings. I’ve seen them described as crawling, creeping, throbbing, aching, pins and needles, or the legs feeling somewhat electric. In any case it is the opposite of what you want to feel as you settle down for the evening.

The feelings can range from mildly unpleasant to severely uncomfortable, making it impossible to sleep. Some people get RLS sporadically, only a few times a year, but unfortunately for many people it can impede sleep on a regular basis.

Usually by morning, the symptoms have disappeared.

People with RLS feel it mainly in their lower legs but it can also be felt in the feet, upper legs and arms.


Do I also have Periodic Limb Movement Disorder? (PLMD)

PLMD is sometimes confused with Restless Legs Syndrome, but it is an entirely different condition. It’s important to work out whether you have one or both, as each disorder might have different causes and different treatments.

PLMD is a sudden and involuntary twitching or jerking of the muscles or group of muscles. It mainly occurs during sleep but can also happen during the day, when a person is at rest. For example, your leg might suddenly shudder or kick out.

The movements can be regular, for example every 20-40 seconds over half an hour or several hours. Other people might notice it just once or twice, or a few times a year.

Usually it affects the feet and legs but can present in other parts of the body.

Studies report that around 80% of RLS sufferers will also experience PLMD, but most people who have PLMD do not have RLS.

During my research I’ve noticed even some reliable sources describe PLMD symptoms as RLS. This is probably because many people suffer from both, and some of the strategies for management are the same. Even if you have both, I think it helps to view them separately when you’re trying to find a treatment.


Who experiences RLS

It’s thought that up to 10% of the population experience RLS either regularly or occasionally. It occurs in both men and women although women are more likely to have it than men. It is often hereditary and can begin at any age. People severely affected by RLS are usually over 40.


What is the cause

Many medical professionals consider RLS to be a disorder of the nervous system.

It is also considered a sleep disorder as it interferes with sleep.

There are a wide range of other theories including hormones, inflammation, dietary deficiencies and genes.

Most people don’t know what triggers their RLS, while others have a few ideas. No one thing has been agreed upon.


There are two types of RLS – Primary and Secondary

Primary RLS

Most people with RLS have primary RLS where there is no known cause.


Secondary RLS

When other medical conditions are thought to cause RLS, then it is called secondary RLS. These conditions include Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, iron deficiency, peripheral neuropathy, and kidney disease.

When these other medical conditions have been successfully managed, often there is relief from RLS symptoms.

The presence of RLS is not an indication that someone will get these diseases or conditions.


Pregnancy and RLS

Many women experience RLS during pregnancy, particularly in the last trimester. Usually this will disappear once the baby has been delivered.


Medications can cause RLS

Medications can sometimes cause or exacerbate RLS. These include some drugs used to treat nausea, depression and allergies. If you think these medications could be affecting you, talk to your doctor. The last thing you need is to miss out on sleep if you are also battling other health issues.


Is there a cure for RLS?

There is no established cure for RLS.  However, there are a variety of treatments people have been using to manage their symptoms with good results. These range from supplements, exercises, hot & cold packs and prescribed medications.

Different things seem to work for different people.

Some good news is that the disorder is becoming more widely researched.

Remedies to help you manage restless legs are included on the remedies page of this website which you can find here.


RLS stops you from sleeping

The biggest hurdle people with RLS face is that it interferes with sleep. It can be difficult to go to sleep initially and then it can wake you many times, with some sufferers achieving very little sleep, night after night.

If you’ve never experienced RLS, it can be hard to imagine how you can be kept awake by symptoms that are unpleasant as opposed to painful. However, this is absolutely the case. There are millions of people who have experienced sleepless nights because of RLS.

The resulting tiredness affects concentration, performance and general enjoyment of life. This obviously impacts on your whole life, including your work, life outside of work and your relationships.

Lack of sleep can impact on your mental health and general levels of positivity. People with RLS can experience depression, from the overwhelm of trying to manage the demands of life with insufficient sleep, anxiety over whether sleep will be possible and the general disappointment and frustration of being up against a situation that feels uncontrollable.

If you are struggling mentally with the impact of RLS and sleeplessness, please talk to your doctor or someone you trust, as soon as possible.