restless legs syndrome
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Scientists made a research breakthrough in understanding the responsible mechanisms of restless leg syndrome.

 

Restless legs syndrome is a disorder related to sensation and movement. It is a common nervous system condition that causes an overwhelming irresistible urge to move the legs. The uncomfortable sensation usually happens in the evening or nighttime hours when an individual is sitting or lying down, causing severe nightly sleep disruption and unpleasant feelings.

Moving the legs or walking generally relieves the symptoms but the sensations often recur once the movement stops. A few lifestyle changes may also help people with mild restless leg syndrome to control their symptoms by avoiding tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine, adopting good sleep habits, and massaging the leg regularly.

The mechanisms of restless legs syndrome are still unknown

Restless legs syndrome affects as many as one in ten people in the United States. It affects twice as many women as men. According to the Florida Hospital, there are about five million adults have moderate to severe restless legs syndrome in the U.S. The exact cause and mechanism of restless legs syndrome are still unknown, but it has long been linked to genetic, metabolic and central nervous system problems.

Assessment of nerve excitability

In a recent study published in The Journal of Physiology, a group of researchers from Germany, Australia, and the U.S. conducted a nerve excitability study in order to puzzle out the mechanisms of restless legs syndrome. The researchers recruited 34 patients with primary restless legs syndrome and 38 healthy volunteers as a normal control group.

Using a special threshold tracking method, the researchers were capable to assess the excitability of sensory axons in the median nerve system. Sensory axons are long fibers that project out of the nerve cell. The researchers found that the involuntary leg movements in restless legs syndrome are caused by the excessive excitability of the nerve cells that supply the muscles in the leg, resulting in an increased number of signals being sent between nerve cells.

Potential treatment for restless leg syndrome

The knowledge gained from this study provides a better understanding of the mechanisms of restless legs syndrome. Controlling the number of messages delivered to normal cells may help prevent the symptoms of restless leg syndrome occurring. In the future, therapy may focus on blocking the ion channels that are essential for the communication between nerve cells.

Written by Man-tik Choy, Ph.D.

Reference: Czesnik, D. et al. Ih contributes to increased motoneuron excitability in restless legs syndrome. The Journal of Physiology, 2018;0.0:1-11. DOI: 10.1113/JP275341.

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