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RLS is a neurological disorder characterized by:

  • uncomfortable sensations in the legs (throbbing, pulling, creeping or other unpleasant feelings)
  • uncontrollable or overwhelming urge to move the legs

This usually happens at night when you’re relaxing or resting, and it can become more severe during the night. Moving your legs relieves the discomfort.

The unusual thing about RLS is that symptoms activate when you’re lying down or trying to relax. Most people with RLS have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Untreated RLS often leads to exhaustion and daytime fatigue.

Long-Term Effects of RLS

Many people with RLS say their jobs, relationships and daily lives are strongly affected by their lack of sleep, which can cause:

  • trouble concentrating
  • memory problems
  • inability to complete daily tasks
  • difficulty traveling
  • depression

Some people with RLS will not seek help because they don’t feel like they will be taken seriously, they think their symptoms are too mild, or that their condition is not treatable. Some doctors wrongly attribute the symptoms to nervousness, insomnia, stress, arthritis, muscle cramps or aging.

RLS Risk Factors

  • Both men and women have RLS, but it affects twice the number of women.
  • It may begin at any age, even in childhood. Many people with RLS remember having “growing pains” at night during their youth or having a parent rub their legs so they could fall asleep.
  • RLS becomes more common with age. People who are severely affected at middle-age or older usually have more frequent, longer-lasting symptoms as they age.

How Common is RLS?

As many as 10% of Americans may have RLS. Several studies have shown that moderate-to-severe RLS affects about 2-3% of adults — that’s more than five million people. Another 5% seem to have a milder form. Childhood RLS is estimated to affect nearly one million school-age children, with one-third having moderate to severe symptoms.