Restless legs syndrome is a sensorimotor disorder characterized by a strong urge to move one’s legs. This urge is usually accompanied by uncomfortable, unpleasant, and at times even painful sensations. Such sensations are generally difficult to describe by individuals, sometimes described as a “creepy-crawly,” “achy.” “itchy,” or “electric” sensation, or other terms such as the “the jimmy legs.” These sensations, and the urge to move one’s legs, are temporarily relieved by moving one’s legs, such as stretching them or walking around. The symptoms occur, or are worse, during periods of rest or immobility, such as sitting or lying. Moreover, they seem to occur predominantly in the evening or night, such as when one is sitting and watching T.V. or lying in bed at night trying to sleep. The symptoms make it difficult for the individual to fall asleep at the beginning of the night and return to sleep if they wake up in the middle of the night.
Twitching Movements Prevent Good Sleep
Some patients with restless legs syndrome may experience involuntary jerking or twitching movements in their legs. Such movements may take the form of what are known as periodic limb movements (PLMs), which are brief, repetitive, stereotyped limb movements, usually affecting the legs. PLMs can occur during quiet wakefulness (PLMW) or during sleep (PLMS). PLMS can cause brief arousals from sleep, with a resulting fragmentation of sleep. PLMS can occur throughout the night without the patient being aware of them. Approximately 80-90% of restless legs syndrome patients experience PLMS.
The result of less sleep, and poor quality sleep at night, leads to daytime fatigue and sleepiness. Patients with restless legs syndrome also have an increased prevalence of depression and anxiety.
Some individuals may experience restless legs syndrome symptoms only periodically, such as 1-4 times per month, while others may experience them on a daily or near-daily basis. Some may experience only mild to moderate discomfort that seems to be relieved once they fall asleep, while others experience more marked symptoms that cause them significant distress. Other parts of the body may also be affected in more severe cases.
The onset of restless legs syndrome can occur at any age. Restless legs syndrome occurring in children may be misdiagnosed as “growing pains” or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Restless legs syndrome in children is usually associated with a family history of the disorder. For the first time in older individuals, restless legs syndrome is more suggestive of an underlying medical cause.