Treatment for Restless Leg Syndrome to be tested

Many people don’t realize there is a medical name for it, and some chock it up to one of those odd things that run in the family. But all sufferers of restless leg syndrome, or RLS, experience similar things: uncomfortable sensations in the legs and sometimes arms that make it difficult for them to sleep.

Now researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine are launching a pilot study on the efficacy and tolerability of a new therapeutic approach to this oft undiagnosed — but common — sleep disorder.

“People may not know they have RLS, but it could really be impacting their life,” said Scott Leibowitz, MD, a postdoctoral fellow in sleep medicine. “We can get them diagnosed and treated and help improve their quality of life.”

RLS is characterized by nighttime discomfort or creeping sensations relieved by movement of the legs. A 2003 Stanford study found that one in 10 people suffer from the disorder, though Leibowitz said the prevalence goes as high as 20 percent in elderly populations. There is a strong heredity component: half of all patients have a family history.

“It can be bad, and it can cause great amounts of stress,” said Leibowitz. “We see people who literally cannot stand it anymore.”

Patients with RLS are typically given medications that increase secretion of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in the disorder. Tolerability of the medication is an issue for some patients, Leibowitz said, and researchers are wondering whether it would be effective for patients to take the oral medication on an as-needed (rather than daily) basis.

During the 12-week study, participants will take a dopamine agonist, Requip (ropinirole), when they experience symptoms. Four office visits on the Stanford campus are also required.

Volunteers are being recruited for the trial. Participants must be between the ages of 18 and 70 and have symptoms of RLS at least one night a week. An RLS diagnosis is not necessary for participation; patients currently taking medication for the disorder are also eligible. Interested volunteers should call (650) 724-4632.

This research is an investigator-initiated study funded by GlaxoSmithKline, which manufactures Requip. Jed Black, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, is the principal investigator on the study.

From Stanford University

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