Friday, July 20, 2007
Is Restless Leg Syndrome Real?
Imagine being stung by 20 mosquitoes and having that burning need to scratch, but your hands are tied behind your back.
That's how some people describe the irresistible urge to move, or kick associated with restless leg syndrome, or RLS, a condition so odd that some within the medical community think the pharmaceutical industry made it up just to sell us drugs.
But for the estimated 20 million Americans suffering with it, compelling new research suggests it's not in your head, but rather in your genes.
Two studies published this week, one in the New England Journal of Medicine, identify specific genes responsible for RLS. And it may affect many more of us than we think: As many as 65 percent of adults carry the gene variation that can lead to symptoms, says Dr. David Rye, co-author of the NEJM study, and an Emory University neurologist who himself suffers from this "riot of the foot," as some of his patients describe it.
So who has this gene?
Study participants were monitored in their sleep; they wore ankle bracelets to record the number of kicks. Interestingly, those who kicked 21 or more times per hour were twice as likely to have the variant gene, Rye's research found. Those with two copies --- one inherited from each parent --- kicked most.
Another revelation: The link between RLS and iron. In fact pregnant women, whose iron levels can drop during pregnancy, are at greater risk of developing the disorder. The good news is, experts say that for women who develop RLS during pregnancy, it often disappears weeks after you give birth.
This research could signal hope for treatment for people living with this annoying, sometimes debilitating disorder. Not only does RLS often hit at night, preventing patients from sleeping. Researchers say it can also contribute to depression, and put sufferers at greater risk of high blood pressure.
The next step, using the gene knowledge to help diagnose and treat RLS.
Do you have RLS, or know somebody who does? Or remain unconvinced it's real?
By Amy Burkholder, CNN Medical Producer
ABOUT THE BLOGGet a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
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