Iron Deficiency Behind Restless Legs Syndrome

Finding may lead to treatments for condition

(HealthDay is the new name for HealthScoutNews.)

FRIDAY, June 13, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Cells in the portion of the midbrain that don't get enough iron appear to be the cause of restless legs syndrome (RLS).

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and Penn State College of Medicine say people who have RLS suffer irresistible urges to move their legs, often accompanied by creepy-crawly sensations in the legs. The syndrome gets worse when the sun goes down. Moving their legs is the only way that people with RLS can get relief. But that can lead to sleep problems for them and their partners.

Little is known about the causes of RLS, but this study provides some important answers.

"We found that, although there are no unique pathological changes in the brains of patients with RLS, it appears that cells in a portion of the midbrain aren't getting enough iron. It was a relief to many that there was no neurodegeneration, or loss or damage of brain cells, like we see in Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease," lead author James Connor, professor and interim chairman of the department of neuroscience and anatomy at Penn State College of Medicine, says in a news release.

The finding that there's a physical cause for RLS establishes that it's a sensory motor disorder rather than a psychological problem. Since the cells involved are iron-deficient -- not damaged or destroyed -- the researchers say there's a better chance to develop treatments for RLS.

For this study, the researchers performed autopsies on the brains of people with RLS.

The findings were presented at the recent meeting of the Association of Professional Sleep Societies in Chicago.

More information

Here's where you can learn more about restless legs syndrome.

SOURCE: Penn State University College of Medicine, news release, June 6, 2003
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