Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Restless Legs Syndrome: What You Should Know


Am Fam Physician. 2008 Jul 15;78(2):243.

  See related article on restless legs syndrome.

What is restless legs syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a condition that makes your legs feel uncomfortable. This feeling may make you want to move your legs. The feeling usually happens in the evening or at night. It may be worse while you are resting. Taking a walk or massaging your legs may help you feel better.

Who gets RLS?

About 10 percent of adults have RLS. It tends to run in families. RLS is more common as people get older, but some people get it before 18 years of age. The cause of RLS is not always clear. Some conditions like anemia and kidney disease may cause RLS. You can also get it when you are pregnant. Some medicines may cause RLS or make it worse.

How can my doctor tell if I have RLS?

Tell your doctor about your symptoms. He or she may ask you these questions:

  • Do you feel like you need to move your legs because of an uncomfortable feeling?

  • Do you feel worse when you are resting?

  • Do you feel better when you are active?

  • Do you feel worse in the evening or at night?

Your doctor may do a blood test to make sure your kidneys are working correctly. He or she may also check your iron level. Low iron can cause RLS.

How is it treated?

Your legs may feel better if you avoid caffeine, cigarettes, and alcohol. Exercise may also help. If you are on medicines that could make RLS worse, your doctor may change them. He or she may give you iron supplements if your iron is low. Medicines that treat Parkinson's disease, seizures, and pain may also treat RLS.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation

Web site:

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2008 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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