Diagnosing Restless Leg Syndrome

When presented with a diagnosis of Restless leg syndrome the treatment and/or self care can vary greatly depending on the severity of the symptoms and the person themselves.

Before beginning treatment it must be determined as to whether the RLS is a primary or secondary condition. This information and diagnosis is important for proper treatment.

Primary RLS

Primary RLS is diagnosed as a genetic disorder, as there seems to be no underlying reason for the symptoms other than family history. Secondary RLS, however, can be more complicated to diagnose or for some to understand. It is believed, first and foremost, that secondary RLS is caused by an iron deficiency. Studies have shown that patients with RLS had low iron levels often had more severe cases of RLS. Also cited in possibly causing RLS symptoms are pregnancy, the use of certain medications and some neurologic conditions.

When it comes to diagnosing RLS it can be difficult as doctors are not often told about the symptoms directly, or be part of the initial visit. Diagnosis is most commonly made from family history and an explanation of symptoms; physical exams are not often useful for diagnosis but can help in finding a secondary cause for the symptoms. It is important than for the doctor, when doing an examination, to ask general sleep and/or RLS related questions.


Often complaints of insomnia and the inability to relax are triggers that there may be something more happening. If the answers seem to indicate the possibility of RLS, further examination can be made to properly diagnosis the symptoms. Therefore making it vital that primary care doctors need to be aware of the causes and conditions related to RLS and use the information available to them.

Once the causes for the RLS are found the next step can then be treatment and the best way to relieve or eliminate symptoms all together, if possible. Since the severity will vary from person to person, no one treatment is best. Doctors must find the best course of action for each individual.

Should the symptoms be mild, medication may not be needed, but can often be controlled by lifestyle changes. If lifestyle changes bring some relief, but something more is needed, work with your doctor to find the right combination of medication, therapy and natural remedies that will work with your body and level of discomfort.

When medications are needed, there are several that are now approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). The frequency and severity of the RLS symptoms will dictate what medication(s) and how often they are taken. For instance, if symptoms occur occasionally, a doctor may prescribe a single dose of opioids to be taken only as needed. To the other extreme, more severe cases may need regular doses of medication such as Requip and Mirapex, both now approved by the FDA.

As with any medical condition and prescription medication, be sure you are aware of the side effects and risks of the medication, including how it may continue to affect them in the future.