Diagnosing restless legs syndrome

There's no single test fordiagnosing restless legs syndrome.

A diagnosis will be based on your symptoms, your medical and family history, a physical examination, and your test results.

Your GP should be able to diagnose restless legs syndrome, but they may refer you to a neurologist if there's any uncertainty.

There are four main criteria your GP or specialist will look for to confirm a diagnosis. These are:

  • an overwhelming urge to move your legs, usually with an uncomfortable sensation such as Pruritus or tingling
  • your symptoms occur or get worse when you're resting or inactive
  • your symptoms are relieved by moving your legs or rubbing them
  • your symptoms are worse during the evening or at night

Assessing your symptoms

Your GP or specialist will ask you about the pattern of your symptoms to help assess their severity. For example, they may ask you:

  • how often you have symptoms
  • how unpleasant you find your symptoms
  • whether your symptoms cause significant distress
  • whether your sleep is disrupted, making you tired during the day

Keeping a sleep diary may help your doctor assess your symptoms. You can use the diary to record your daily sleeping habits, such as the time you go to bed, how long it takes you to fall asleep, how often you wake during thenight, and episodes of tiredness during the day.

Mild symptoms of restless legs syndrome can usually be treated by making lifestyle changes for example, establishing a regular sleeping pattern and avoiding stimulants, such as caffeine, alcohol or tobacco, in the evening.

If your symptoms are more severe, you may need medication to bring them under control.

Low iron levels can be treated withiron tablets.

Sleep tests

If you haverestless legs syndrome and your sleep is being severely disrupted, sleep testssuch as asuggested immobilisation test may be recommended. The test involveslyingon a bed for a set period of time without moving your legs while anyinvoluntary leg movements are monitored.

Occasionally, polysomnography may be recommended. This is a test that measures your breathing rate, brain waves and heartbeat throughout the course of a night. The results will confirm whether you have periodic limb movements in sleep (PLMS) .

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 29 Nov 2016