Bringing attention to Restless Legs Syndrome

It’s believed as many as one in 10 Americans suffers from Restless Legs Syndrome. However, many people may not realize the symptoms they’re experiencing are part of a diagnosable and treatable disorder. Restless Legs Syndrome Awareness Week, which lasts through Saturday, is designed to draw attention to RLS, which also is known as Willis-Ekbom Disease.

Penn State Hershey Neuroscience Institute has set up a clinic for individuals suffering from RLS. Max Lowden, who heads the clinic, said RLS is simply defined as an irresistible urge to move the legs. These sensations tend to worsen at night, keeping individuals from sleeping. Once getting that urge, Lowden said, patients often stand or move their legs to relieve their symptoms.

He said one of the biggest challenges for physicians is discerning whether a case of RLS is primary or secondary in nature. Primary RLS means the symptoms cannot be traced to another cause, whereas secondary RLS may be triggered by conditions such as diabetes, renal failure or an iron deficiency.

There are compelling data to suggest that RLS is an inherited disorder, with more than 50 percent of the sufferers having a family member that also has the disorder. Although RLS can affect individuals at any age, the incidence of RLS appears to increase with age. Individuals who suffer from RLS have a significant decrease in quality of life, including increases in sleep disturbance, lost productivity and increased incidence of depression. The loss in productivity for those with RLS not only results from the increase in fatigue associated with decreased quantity and quality of sleep, but also because many individuals who suffer from RLS are forced to take early retirement. In addition, the bed-partner of the individual with RLS also shares the disorder with the affected individual because they also suffer from disturbed sleep, frequently ending up sleeping in separate bedrooms and furthering the negative impact on quality of life.

In addition to expert clinical care, Penn State Hershey Medical Center offers RLS patients opportunities to participate in state-of-the-art research to understand the cause and develop a cure for RLS. Scientists at Penn State Hershey have been at the forefront of understanding the biological basis of RLS. They also offer treatment options for those patients whose RLS symptoms are not responding to medical management and involve painful sensations.

The RLS clinic is offered on the second and fourth Thursday of the month from 1:15 to 4:45 p.m. To schedule an appointment, call 800-243-1455.

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Last Updated September 21, 2011