Definition of restless legs syndrome, how to diagnose it, and how to differentiate it from RLS mimics

Mov Disord. 2007;22 Suppl 18:S401-8. doi: 10.1002/mds.21604.


Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a clinical diagnosis based primarily on self-reports of individuals. The International RLS Study Group has published diagnostic criteria that are essential for an operational diagnosis of RLS; further clinical features are considered by the group supportive for or associated with RLS. However, sensitivity and specificity are not perfect and "mimics" of RLS have been reported, i.e., other conditions like nocturnal cramps sometimes can appear to fulfill the essential diagnostic criteria indicating the need for more thorough understanding of the diagnostic criteria and better differential diagnoses. To contribute to the accuracy of diagnostic processes in RLS, we recapitulate the definition of RLS as an urge to move focused on the legs (and arms in some patients). This urge to move often but not always occurs together with dysesthesia, i.e. unpleasant abnormal sensations appearing without any apparent sensory stimulation. The urge to move and any accompanying dysesthesia must be engendered by rest, relieved by movement and worse in the evening or night. Succinctly, RLS can be summarized in medical terminology as a "movement-responsive quiescegenic nocturnal focal akathisia usually with dysesthesias." Empirical approaches to investigate the independence of the essential criteria "worsening at night" and "worsening at rest" are reported. Possible differential diagnoses of RLS are discussed under the perspective of the NIH diagnostic criteria of RLS. Standardized methods to assess a RLS diagnosis are presented which might improve differential diagnosis and in general the reliability and validity of RLS diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Restless Legs Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Terminology as Topic*