Restless legs syndrome, also known as Willis-Ekbom disease,is a common condition of the nervous system thatcauses an overwhelming, irresistible urge to move the legs.

It can also cause an unpleasant crawling or creeping sensationin the feet, calves and thighs. The sensation is often worse in the eveningor at night. Occasionally, the arms are affected too.

Restless legs syndrome is also associated with involuntary jerking of the legs and arms, known as periodic limb movements in sleep (PLMS).

Some people havethe symptoms of restless legs syndrome occasionally, while others have them every day. The symptoms can vary from mild to severe. In severe cases, restless legs syndrome can be very distressing and disrupt a person's daily activities.

What causes restless legs syndrome?

In the majority of cases, there's no obvious cause ofrestless legs syndrome. This known as idiopathic or primary restless legs syndrome, and it can run in families.

Some neurologists (specialists in treating conditions that affect the nervous system) believe the symptoms of restless legs syndrome may have something to do with how the body handlesa chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is involved in controlling muscle movement andmaybe responsible forthe involuntary leg movements associated withrestless legs syndrome.

In some cases, restless legs syndrome is caused by an underlying health condition,such as Iron deficiency anaemia or kidney failure. This is known as secondaryrestless legs syndrome.

There's also a link betweenrestless legs syndrome and pregnancy. About 1 in5 pregnant women will experience symptoms in the last three months of their pregnancy, although it's not clear exactly why this is. In such cases,restless legs syndrome usually disappears after the woman has given birth.

It's also more common in middle age, although the symptoms can develop at any age, including childhood.


Thesymptomsofrestless legs syndrome will usually disappear if it's possible to address an underlying cause.

However, if the causeis unknown, the symptoms can sometimes get worse with time and severely affect the person's life. Restless legs syndrome isn't life threatening, but severe cases can severely disrupt sleep (causing insomnia )and trigger anxiety and depression .

The charity Restless Leg Syndrome UK providesinformation and support for people affected by restless legs syndrome, and may be able to put you in touch with other peoplein your area affected by the condition.

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 29 Nov 2016