Are trembling limbs keeping you up at night? Recent research predicts a new treatment for restless legs syndrome.
For the 10% of the U.S. population suffering from restless legs syndrome, a new study may provide hope for new treatment options to relieve the uncontrollable and painful movements of limbs, usually occurring in the legs. Since RLS typically strikes when individuals try to sleep, the condition leads to extreme fatigue because they were unable to rest during the night.
In most cases, a chronic medical issue such as kidney failure, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease lies at the root of RLS. Treatment of those conditions may alleviate some symptoms. Pregnancy and a family history of RLS can also cause individuals to experience the involuntary jerking of the legs that mark RLS. Having varicose veins further puts a person at risk for RLS; 22% of individuals with the syndrome have been diagnosed with venous insufficiency as well.
However, a recent study published in the Journal of Physiology points to another underlying reason people suffer from RLS. Researchers at the University of Gottingen, the University of Sydney, and Vanderbilt University contend this finding could lead to breakthroughs in treating RLS.
Experts previously attributed the cause of RLS to an impairment in the basal ganglia circuits of the brain. That disorder, in turn, affects how the central nervous system functions.
But that might not be the only cause. New research suggests another factor in addition to a malfunctioning central nervous system: The nerve cells that send signals to the muscles in the legs may be more “excitable” in RLS sufferers. Those hyperactive nerves then trigger leg muscles to twitch and throb.
Developing drugs that calm down those overly stimulated nerve cells promises relief from RLS, the researchers predict. “The mechanisms for RLS are still not completely understood,” said Dirk Czesnik, one of the study’s authors. “We have shown that the nerve cells supplying muscles in the leg are responsible and hereby additional drug treatments may be ahead targeting these nerve cells.”
What RLS Patients Can Do Now
The nerve-blocking drugs the researchers allude to may not be on the market for several years. In the meantime, RLS sufferers may ease their symptoms with other remedies now available.
For example, RLS patients might be low on iron, so taking iron, folate or magnesium supplements helps keep legs from trembling. Further, the level of dopamine—a chemical neurotransmitter in the brain —tends to fluctuate during the day in RLS suffers. Regulating those levels with medication relieves symptoms.
Anticonvulsant drugs are also prescribed to treat RLS. And a new medication, gabapentin enacarbil, received approval from the FDA recently to be used as treatment for RLS.
Lifestyle changes can reduce the sometimes debilitating symptoms of RLS as well. Exercising everyday, messaging your legs, and cutting out smoking and alcohol may ward off leg tremors and let patients sleep at night. For those RLS patients who also suffer from varicose veins, compression stockings and undergoing sclerotherapy, a noninvasive procedure used to treat spider veins, are recommended therapies.
The good news is, RLS patients don’t have to stay awake all night. If you suffer from RLS, come and discuss treatment alternatives with a vein specialist at the Center for Vein Restoration. Call 1-800-FIX-LEGS or make an appointment online.