Quick Facts

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a common disease in which uncomfortable leg sensations can prevent people from falling asleep or staying asleep. It can lead to daytime tiredness and mood problems. There are many treatments available for this disease including medication and non-medication options.

Key Points:

  • There are several prescription medications used in treating RLS. Your doctor can help you determine the most appropriate medication to use.
  • Iron supplements can help relieve symptoms in people who are iron deficient.
  • Non-medication options are also extremely important in managing symptoms.

Who Should Be Treated:

Some people do not require any medications for RLS. Many people find relief through regular exercise and using warm baths or massaging the legs when they feel symptoms. However, some people have very intense symptoms which can prevent sleep and lead to daytime tiredness. In these cases, medications may be considered.

People with anemia or low iron levels may have more severe RLS symptoms. Some drugs used to treat depression, nausea, and allergies can make RLS symptoms worse. Sometimes using iron supplements or changing medications can help with RLS symptoms.

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General Overview

Restless legs syndrome (also called Willis-Ekbom disease) affects about 7% of the population, with about 3% experiencing moderate to severe symptoms. Symptoms of RLS can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Often patients wake up and need to pace the floor to relieve symptoms. In the setting of poor sleep, people may feel tired during the day and some people with RLS report worsening of anxiety or depression.

If leg sensations are only mildly distressing or if they do not occur on a regular basis, activities such as exercise, leg massage, and warm baths may be all that is required. In people who have more significant or frequent symptoms, prescription medications can be used. Your healthcare provider can help you decide if medications are needed. Some medications need to be taken at the same time each day and some can be taken only when symptoms are bothersome. Your healthcare provider may recommend iron supplements if your iron levels
are low.


In addition to medications, many other strategies can help ease symptoms of restless legs syndrome.

  • Eat a well-balanced diet including foods rich in iron
  • Engage in moderate physical activity every day
  • Try stretching or massaging the legs when you notice RLS symptoms

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  • Try distracting yourself by doing something interesting to help you focus less on the RLS symptoms
  • Manage stress
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol and do not smoke, as these can worsen RLS

Next Steps:

  • Talk with your primary healthcare provider about your symptoms. It may help to write down your symptoms including the time of day when they occur. See a sleep specialist if recommended.
  • Go over all of your medications and herbal aids with your healthcare providers to determine if any of these could cause/worsen your RLS symptoms.
  • Iron testing may be recommended by your provider. A sleep study may be recommended to make sure there are no other problems which could disturb your sleep (like sleep apnea).



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Since 1977, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) Standards for Accreditation have been the gold standard by which the medical community and the public evaluate sleep medicine facilities. Achieving AASM accreditation demonstrates a sleep medicine provider’s commitment to high quality, patient-centered care through adherence to these standards.

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