Recognition, diagnosis, and treatment of restless legs syndrome

J Am Acad Nurse Pract. 2008 Aug;20(8):396-401. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-7599.2008.00337.x.


Purpose: To review the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of restless legs syndrome (RLS) and its relevance to nurse practitioners (NPs).

Data sources: Comprehensive review of the scientific literature on the diagnosis and treatment of RLS in adults.

Conclusions: RLS is a chronic neurological disorder that, with varying degrees of severity, affects 5%-10% of the general population. Because of the circadian pattern of onset, the symptoms of RLS may be associated with significant sleep disturbance and may have a negative impact on quality of life. RLS is characterized by a compelling urge to move the legs and usually accompanied or caused by uncomfortable sensations in the legs. Symptoms begin or worsen during periods of rest or inactivity and are worse in the evening or at night. Other features supportive of a diagnosis include a family history, the presence of periodic leg movements in sleep, and the relief of symptoms after treatment with a dopaminergic therapy. Although the etiology of RLS is unknown, it is thought that symptoms result from a central dopaminergic dysfunction and dopamine agonists are considered first-line treatment for moderate-to-severe primary RLS. Nondopaminergic therapies and nonpharmacologic interventions may also be appropriate in the management of less severe cases of RLS.

Implications for practice: NPs are often the first healthcare providers to see patients with RLS and therefore need to be able to accurately recognize and diagnose the disorder; this, in turn, will enable them to successfully manage the treatment of RLS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cost of Illness
  • Dopamine Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Medical History Taking
  • Nurse Practitioners / organization & administration*
  • Nurse's Role
  • Nursing Assessment
  • Prevalence
  • Primary Health Care / methods
  • Quality of Life
  • Restless Legs Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Restless Legs Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Restless Legs Syndrome / psychology
  • Restless Legs Syndrome / therapy*
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Dopamine Agonists