Restless Legs Syndrome

What Is It?

Restless legs syndrome is a movement disorder that causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs. These sensations typically are worse during periods of rest, especially just before sleeping at night, but they may happen during daytime periods of inactivity, such as watching a movie, attending a long business meeting, or flying in a plane.

The discomfort of restless legs syndrome usually is accompanied by an overwhelming urge to move the legs, which may relieve leg discomfort temporarily. At night, people with restless legs syndrome often find that their leg symptoms make it difficult to fall asleep. Because of this, insomnia is common, together with extreme drowsiness and fatigue during the daytime.

The cause of restless legs syndrome remains unknown. However, evidence suggests that there is a problem related to a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) called dopamine. Since restless legs syndrome may affect family members across generations, scientists suspect that there is some genetic (inherited) risk of the problem. In addition, genetic studies find an association between certain genes and restless legs syndrome. Still, a definite genetic cause has not been confirmed.

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