Diagnostic Criteria

A. An urge to move the legs, usually accompanied by or in response to uncomfortable and unpleasant sensations in the legs, characterized by all of the following:

  1. The urge to move the legs begins or worsens during periods of rest or inactivity.
  2. The urge to move the legs is partially or totally relieved by movement.
  3. The urge to move the legs is worse in the evening or at night than during the day, or occurs only in the evening or at night.

B. The symptoms in Criterion A occur at least three times per week and have persisted for at least 3 months.

C. The symptoms in Criterion A are accompanied by significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, educational, academic, behavioral, or other important areas of functioning.

D. The symptoms in Criterion A are not attributable to another mental disorder or medical condition (e.g., arthritis, leg edema, peripheral ischemia, leg cramps) and are not better explained by a behavioral condition (e.g., positional discomfort, habitual foot tapping).

E. The symptoms are not attributable to the physiological effects of a drug of abuse or medication (e.g., akathisia).

Differential Diagnosis

The most important conditions in the differential diagnosis of RLS are leg cramps, positional discomfort, arthralgias/arthritis, myalgias, positional ischema (numbness), leg edema, peripheral neuropathy, radiculopathy, and habitual foot tapping. "Knotting" of the muscle (cramps), relief with a single postural shift, limitation to joints, soreness to palpation (myalgias), and other abnormalities on physical examination are not characteristic of RLS. Unlike RLS, nocturnal leg cramps do not typically present with the desire to move the limbs nor are there frequent limb movements. Less common conditions to be differentiated from RLS include neuroleptic-induced akathisia, myelopathy, symptomatic venous insufficiency, peripheral artery disease, eczema, other orthopedic problems, and anxiety-induced restlessness. Worsening at night and periodic limb movements are more common in RLS than in medication-induced akathisia or peripheral neuropathy.

While it is important that RLS symptoms not be solely accounted for by another medical or behavioral condition, it should also be appreciated that any of these similar conditions can occur in an individual with RLS. This necessitates a separate focus on each possible condition in the diagnostic process and when assessing impact. For cases in which the diagnosis of RLS is not certain, evaluation for the supportive features of RLS, particularly PLMS or a family history of RLS, may be helpful. Clinical features, such as response to a dopaminergic agent and positive family history for RLS, can help with the differential diagnosis.

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