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How Is Restless Legs Syndrome Diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose restless legs syndrome (RLS) based on your signs and symptoms, your medical and family histories, a physical exam, and test results.

Your doctor will use this information to rule out other conditions that have symptoms similar to those of RLS.

Specialists Involved

Your primary care doctor usually can diagnose and treat RLS. However, he or she also may suggest that you see a sleep specialist or neurologist.

Signs and Symptoms

You must have the four key signs of RLS to be diagnosed with the disorder.

Your doctor will want to know how your symptoms are affecting your sleep and how alert you are during the day.

To help your doctor, you may want to keep a sleep diary. Use the diary to keep a daily record of how easy it is to fall and stay asleep, how much sleep you get at night, and how alert you feel during the day.

For a sample sleep diary, go to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's "Your Guide to Healthy Sleep."

Medical and Family Histories

Your doctor may ask whether you have any of the diseases or conditions that can trigger RLS. These include kidney failure, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, pregnancy, and iron deficiency.

Your doctor also may want to know what medicines you take. Some medicines can trigger or worsen RLS.

The most common type of RLS tends to run in families. Thus, your doctor may ask whether any of your relatives have RLS.

Physical Exam

Your doctor will do a physical exam to check for underlying conditions that may trigger RLS. He or she also will check for other conditions that have symptoms similar to those of RLS.

Diagnostic Tests

Currently, no test can diagnose RLS. Still, your doctor may recommend blood tests to measure your iron levels. He or she also may suggest muscle or nerve tests. These tests can show whether you have a condition that can worsen RLS or that has symptoms similar to those of RLS.

Rarely, sleep studies are used to help diagnose RLS. A sleep study measures how much and how well you sleep. Although RLS can cause a lack of sleep, this sign isn't specific enough to diagnose the condition.

Researchers continue to study new ways to diagnose RLS.

Drug Therapy Trial

If your doctor thinks you have RLS, he or she may prescribe certain medicines to relieve your symptoms. These medicines, which are used to treat people who have Parkinson's disease, also can relieve RLS symptoms. If the medicines relieve your symptoms, your doctor can confirm that you have RLS.

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Last Updated: November 1, 2010