Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) Diagnosis

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There is no specific diagnostic test for RLS. When you go to your health care professional, he or she may use the following criteria to help determine whether or not you have RLS:

  1. You have an urge to move your legs usually accompanied by uncomfortable leg sensations. These sensations are different from muscle cramps and numbness, and are often described as burning, creeping, crawling, aching or tugging. Usually starting in the lower legs, symptoms can spread to other parts of the body, such as the feet, chest, and arms. While often described as uncomfortable or irritating, sometimes these sensations can be painful.
  2. Your symptoms are partially or totally relieved by movement. By moving or stretching, the unpleasant sensations can be partially or totally relieved. The kinds of movements that help are often repetitive, such as pacing, rocking or shaking.
  3. Your symptoms begin or worsen during rest such as lying or sitting. Often people will experience RLS symptoms when inactive or not moving around. Lying down, traveling in a plane, or sitting through a movie are examples of situations when RLS may occur. While moving the affected limb can lessen the symptoms, once at rest the symptoms can intensify again.
  4. Your symptoms are worse in the evening or night. There is a typical timing to the intensity or concentration of RLS symptoms. In the early morning, people with RLS often find some relief from the unpleasant sensations. However, as the day continues, symptoms get increasingly worse. Throughout the night, these irritating sensations and feelings often reach their peak.

If possible, bring a sleep diary as well as a record of the occurrence and severity of your symptoms with you. Your doctor will conduct tests to rule out factors that may be causing the symptoms such as pregnancy, iron deficiency and end-stage renal failure. You can expect that he or she will ask what time your symptoms occur, when they are most severe, what you were doing before the onset of symptoms, and how much time elapses before you are able to get to sleep due to your RLS. Your doctor will also need a record of your sleep quality and quantity during the time when symptoms appear and whether or not you experienced any pain along with the RLS symptoms. In addition to recording the duration and quality of your sleep, you may want to note the following in your diary:

  • The time you noticed symptoms began
  • What you were doing when the symptoms started
  • The intensity of the symptoms
  • What the symptoms felt like (write a short description)
  • Where you felt the symptoms (like in your legs or your arms)
  • How long the symptoms lasted
  • What helped relieve the symptoms (if anything)
  • The estimated amount of exercise you did that day (like taking walks, gardening, or riding a bike)
  • The time you went to bed
  • The estimated time that you fell asleep
  • How many times you got out of bed during the night and how long you were up (if applicable)
  • Medications and doses taken
  • The time you woke up in the morning
  • Whether or not you needed an alarm clock to wake up
  • Each time you took a nap during the day and for how long
  • How you felt throughout the day