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Sleep and restless legs syndrome

Restless legs syndrome, RLS, or Willis-Ekbom disease is a common condition causing an irresistible urge to move the legs. Because this condition affecting the nervous system often happens at night and can cause a loss of sleep, it is also seen as a sleep disorder.

RLS affects as many as 1 in 10 people in the UK at some point in their life. The condition is more common in women, and in middle age.

Symptoms of restless legs syndrome

The restless legs syndrome sensations are not painful, but an uncomfortable, "itchy," "pins and needles," or "creepy crawly" feeling deep in the legs. The sensations are usually worse when resting, especially when lying in bed. The sensations lead to a feeling of discomfort when walking, sleep deprivation, and stress.

The severity of RLS symptoms ranges from mild to intolerable. Symptoms gradually worsen over time in about two thirds of people with the condition, and in extreme cases may be severe enough to be disabling. The symptoms are generally worse in the evenings and at night and less severe in the mornings. While the symptoms are usually quite mild in young adults, by the age of 50 the symptoms may cause severe nightly sleep disruption that can significantly impair a person's quality of life.

RLS can be unrecognised or misdiagnosed. In many people the diagnosis is not made until a number of years after the onset of symptoms. Once correctly diagnosed, RLS can often be treated successfully.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on May 09, 2016

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