Restless Legs Syndrome and Periodic Limb Movement Disorder

Restless Legs Syndrome(RLS) is a movement disorder that affects 3% to 15% of the overall population. This disorder may occur in both children and adults, but it is found more in the older population. Even though effective treatments are available, RLS frequently goes undiagnosed. Restless Legs Syndrome can be either an early-onset or late-onset form of the syndrome. Each form may have different characteristics:

  • Early-onset Restless Legs Syndrometends to have a family history of the disorder. They commonly have RLS without accompanying pain. This is more common in women than in men.
  • Late-onset Restless Legs Syndromeusually does not have a family history of RLS. The condition is more likely to result from a problem with the nervous system. People with this condition may also have pain in the lower legs.

Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD) is also known as nocturnal myoclonus. Characteristics of PLMD include:

  • Nighttime episodes typically peak near midnight which is similar to RLS.
  • Jerking and contractions of the leg muscle every 20 to 40 seconds during sleep. These movements may last less than 1 to 10 seconds.
  • Movements of PLMD do not wake the person who has it, but they are frequently noticed by their bed partner. This condition is different from a sudden movement that happens just as people are falling asleep which interrupts sleep.


  • PLMD frequently accompanies RLS. It is a condition where leg muscles jerk and contract every 20-40 seconds during sleep.
  • Not like RLS, contractions in PLMD typically do not wake people.
  • Four out of five people who have RLS also report having PLMD, but only about a third of people with PLMD also have RLS.

Treatment for RLS and PLMD

Treatment often includes lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medicines. Iron supplements are also given in cases where an iron deficiency has been identified. In addition, prescription medications can provide good relief of frequent or severe symptoms.

Medications for RLS include:

  • Rotigotine
  • Pramipexole
  • Ropinirole
  • Gabapentin Enacarbil
  • Tramadol

These medications are carefully chosen based on the intensity and duration of symptoms.

Other Conditions Associated with Restless Legs Syndrome

The following medical conditions are also associated with RLS, even though the relationships are not clear. In some cases, these conditions may contribute to RLS. Others may have a common cause, or they may coexist due to other risk factors:

  • Obesity
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Chronic alcoholism
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Sleep apnea
  • Brain or spinal injuries
  • Chronic headaches
  • Osteoarthritis, a common condition affecting older adults
  • Varicose veins occur in about 1 in 7 patients with RLS
  • People with type 2 diabetes may have higher rates of secondary RLS. Nerve pain linked to diabetes cannot fully explain the higher rate of RLS.
  • Psychiatric disorders, such as depression
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Muscle and nerve disorders of certain interest are hereditary ataxia which is a group of genetic diseases that affects the central nervous system. It causes a loss of motor control. Researchers believe that hereditary ataxia might supply clues to the genetic causes of RLS.

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