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Kids and Restless Leg Syndrome

Expert Pediatrics Q&A


Updated April 29, 2014

Q. Can kids get restless leg syndrome?

A. Restless leg syndrome is usually thought of as an adult disorder, so it is likely that many Pediatricians are not familiar with it.

However, according to the Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation, 'an estimated 1.5 million children and adolescents' are thought to have RLS and it is thought that 'RLS symptoms often begin during childhood or adolescence.'

What is Restless Leg Syndrome?

The National Institutes of Health states that 'restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a sensory disorder causing an almost irresistible urge to move the legs. The urge to move is usually due to unpleasant feelings in the legs that occur when at rest. People with RLS use words such as creeping, crawling, tingling, or burning to describe these feelings. Moving the legs eases the feelings, but only for a while.'

And having Restless Leg Syndrome can make it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep.

Symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome

The major symptoms for a child with restless legs syndrome include:
  • an almost irresistible urge to move their legs or arms when they are sitting or lying down, including pacing, walking, stretching, flexing, tossing, turning, jiggling their legs, or rubbing their legs
  • unpleasant feelings in their legs, which can lead to difficultly falling asleep or stay asleep, including creeping, crawling, itching, tingling, burning, aching, pain, etc.
  • daytime symptoms from a lack of sleep, including daytime sleepiness
Keep in mind that children may find the unpleasant feelings hard to describe or they may describe their symptoms differently than adults do, and some children who are diagnosed with growing pains may actually have restless leg syndrome, especially if there is a family history of RLS.

There may also be some association between restless leg syndrome and ADHD.

Diagnosis of Restless Leg Syndrome

Although there is no formal blood test that can help to diagnose restless leg syndrome, if your child can answer yes to the following four questions, then according to the NIH, he does have all of the conditions for a diagnosis of restless leg syndrome and he may to see a Pediatric Neurologist for further evaluation and treatment:
  1. Do you have an urge to move the legs due to an unpleasant feeling in your legs?
  2. Is the urge to move your legs, or the unpleasant feelings in your legs, begin or gets worse when you are at rest or not moving around frequently?
  3. Is the urge to move your legs, or the unpleasant feelings in your legs, partly or completely relieved by movement (such as walking or stretching) for as long as the movement continues?
  4. Is the urge to move your legs, or the unpleasant feelings in your legs, worse in the evening and at night, or does it only occur in the evening or at night?

What You Need To Know

  • Restless leg syndrome does tend to run in families.

  • People with RLS often also have Periodic Limb Movement Disorder, in which their legs uncontrollably twitch or jerk every 10 to 60 seconds, usually during sleep.

  • It is not known what causes RLS, but it can be secondary to iron deficiency anemia and some other medical conditions and as a side effect of taking antidepressants, antinausea medicines, antiseizure medicines, and some allergy and cold medicines. RLS can also sometimes be triggered by alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco.

  • RLS can be treated with lifestyle changes and medicines.

1Children and RLS. Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation
2Restless legs syndrome. Ondo WG - Neurol Clin - 01-NOV-2005; 23(4): 1165-85, viii
3National Institutes of Health (NIH). Restless Legs Syndrome.
4Some children with growing pains may actually have restless legs syndrome. Rajaram SS - Sleep - 15-JUN-2004; 27(4): 767-73

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