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Willis-Ekbom Disease, commonly referred to as Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), is characterized by unpleasant feelings of discomfort in the lower legs that warrant constant movement or stretching, causing the disruption or prevention of sleep. These unpleasant sensations are most prevalent later in the day, specifically in the evening and during the night.

There are two kinds of RLS: primary and secondary. Primary RLS is the most commonly occurring type of RLS and other than being hereditary, its cause is unknown. Secondary RLS is usually caused by another medical condition or certain prescription drugs.

Did You Know?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, it is estimated that 10% of American adults and 2% of American children have Restless Legs Syndrome. Recently, there has also been studies completed that shown a significant genetic connection with 70% of children diagnosed with RLS having at least one parent also diagnosed. RLS can affect individuals of any age or gender, however older patients generally have stronger and longer lasting symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions:


Do I have RLS?

If you are experiencing uncomfortable sensations in your legs at night that cause movement, then you may have RLS. The Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation asserts that there are five essential features of RLS and all must be present to indicate RLS. These include:

  1. A strong urge to move the legs due to uncomfortable sensations
  2. This urge increases when you are inactive, lying down, or sitting
  3. This urge decreases with movement, stretching, or walking
  4. Uncomfortable sensations get worse in the evening or at night
  5. Uncomfortable sensations are not the result of leg cramps, positional discomfort, leg swelling, or arthritis.

Woman sitting on her bed rubbing her legs with a pained expression

What does RLS feel like?

People with RLS describe itchy, pins and needles, and creepy crawly sensations in their legs. Others describe feeling a constant need to stretch their muscles or change positions. Many experience a difficulty falling or staying asleep due to these sensations and some even experience their legs jerking. Often, uncomfortable sensations can quickly be alleviated by movement or stretching, and they are usually better during the day.

How is RLS diagnosed?

To diagnose RLS, our sleep doctors at Overlake Internal Medicine Associates will discuss your symptoms and medical history. Then, they will rule out other possible causes for your symptoms and may ask you to undergo a sleep study or test your iron levels. While there is no specific test for RLS, the culmination of the aforementioned factors will enable our sleep doctors to diagnose your RLS. If you think you may be affected by RLS, schedule a consultation with our sleep doctors today!

How is RLS treated?

The main treatment approach for RLS is to alleviate its symptoms. Lifestyle changes are the recommended method and include:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Establishing a sleep routine
  • Eliminating or reducing caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco intake


Other ways to reduce symptoms include:

  • Leg massages to relax muscles
  • Hot baths, heating pads, or ice packs applied to legs
  • Using a vibrating pad (Relaxis
  • Medications such as: Dopaminergic drugs (Mirapex, Neupro, Requip), Benzodiazepines, Narcotics, and Anticonvulsants (Tegretol, Lyrica, Neurontin, Horizant).


infographic on good sleep habits

Finally, maintaining good sleeping habits can help manage RLS. Good sleeping habits include:

  • Establishing a consistent bedtime and wake time
  • Staying active
  • Talking with your doctor about alternative medications that won’t affect your sleep
  • Eliminating or reducing daytime naps
  • Avoid large meals or beverages before bedtime
  • Making your bed and bedroom comfortable for sleep
  • Creating a nightly relaxation ritual

What causes RLS?

Primary RLS is inherited and the specific cause is unknown. Secondary RLS is usually the result of certain medical conditions such as vein disease in the legs, kidney failure, low levels or iron (anemia), pregnancy, and peripheral neuropathy. Stress, diet, and the presence of certain prescription drugs  such as antinausea drugs, antipsychotic drugs, antidepressants, and cold/allergy medications with antihistamines can also contribute to RLS.

You may also experience RLS if you have Parkinson’s disease, varicose veins, fibromyalgia, hyper- or hypo- thyroidism, a magnesium or B-12 deficiency, amyloidosis, Lyme disease, or rheumatoid arthritis.

Are there things that can trigger RLS?

Yes, certain behaviors or activities can trigger RLS and intensify symptoms. Staying still for an extended period of time, lack of sleep, alcohol, caffeine, smoking, hard exercise especially before bedtime, stress, extreme temperatures, refined sugars, and being sensitive to certain clothing fabrics can all trigger RLS symptoms.


Woman in nightgown holding the moon and looking over the city at night

Why does RLS occur at night?

There are a few theories as to why RLS symptoms increase in the evening and continue throughout the night. The first is that RLS is due to poor circulation caused by constant sitting or standing during the daytime. When blood moves slowly towards the heart, this can make your legs feel heavy and uncomfortable. Another reason is due to a lack of daytime exercise. If your legs do not move enough during the day, they will not be as calm at night. This is especially relevant if your lack of motion is due to flying. The lack of motion coupled with the increased air pressure can cause restless legs. Another cause is wearing heels during the day that don’t allow your calves to flex properly.

Can RLS be cured?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for RLS. However, treatments can significantly decrease the occurrence of regular symptoms and improve sleep patterns. According to the National Sleep Foundation, individuals with RLS who do not treat the condition have a reduced quality of life. Although RLS cannot be completely cured, treatment is still highly beneficial in alleviating symptoms and is highly recommended.

Don’t let your restless legs dictate your life any longer! Schedule a consultation with our Bellevue sleep doctors at Overlake Internal Medicine Associates today!