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Seeking Rest for People with Restless Leg Syndrome

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Posted: 12/30/2003

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Uninterrupted sleep is taken for granted by millions of Americans, but a significant number of people – those with restless leg syndrome – face a disorder that prevents them from getting the rest they need each night.

Restless leg syndrome wreaks havoc on nighttime sleep patterns and a quality lifestyle, says Dr. Karen Thomas, a neurologist at The Ohio State University Medical Center who is studying a potential treatment for the disorder.

“People with restless leg syndrome experience an uncontrollable urge to move their legs during rest, which interferes with their ability to fall asleep,” said Thomas. While it’s estimated 20 million people have restless leg syndrome, Thomas says the number may be much higher.

“Some people don’t know they have this condition, but yet can’t figure out why they are constantly tired during the day. Others have the symptoms, but don’t seek medical care,” she said. “To be sure, it’s under-diagnosed and the people who have it are understandably exhausted and struggle to make it through each day.”

Thomas is currently studying a drug used to treat Parkinson’s disease to see if it’s safe and effective for treating restless leg. Ohio State is one of 39 medical centers involved in the study.

Patients in the study are randomly selected to receive the study drug or a placebo for 12 weeks and are closely monitored for a change in their symptoms. In addition, they are fitted with a special ankle device that measures periodic leg movements. If the study is successful, it may lead to approval of the first drug specifically approved for restless leg.

Many people with restless leg syndrome complain of a “creeping” or “crawling” sensation and an irresistible urge to move or kick their legs. The symptoms are often relieved by movement, but reappear in some cases nightly. The cause of the disorder is not known, but several conditions have been found to be associated with the symptoms, including low serum and reduced brain iron.

Thomas suggests people who are constantly tired see their family physician to try and determine an exact cause. If restless leg syndrome is determined to be a factor, there are potential remedies as simple as lifestyle and diet changes, or adjusting medications. In addition, there are a few medications that can relieve the symptoms.

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David Crawford
Medical Center Communications

Clinical/Translational Research; Neurology; University Hospital