Restless Legs Syndrome

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History of RLS

The earliest description of Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) was in 1672 by English physician and anatomist Sir Thomas Willis, who wrote that “…the diseased are no more able to sleep, than if they were in a place of greatest torture…” RLS lingered in anonymity until 1944, when Swedish neurologist Karl-Axel Ekbom described 8 patients with what he called asthenia crurum paraesthetica - "irritable legs". He described the salient features of RLS and said that, in most patients, objective signs were lacking. One (12.5%) of these patients, however, was noted to have varicose veins. Dr. Ekbom went on to say that all patients had palpable dorsalis pedis pulses, yet he concluded: “it is possible that the condition is due to a functional vascular disorder”. He suspected venous congestion and an accumulation of metabolites to be a cause of RLS. He coined the phrase “restless legs” to describe the patients’ inability to lie still. [1][2]

The addition of the word “syndrome” has designated this malady as a condition defined by clinical symptoms, rather than by any specific pathological process. In recognition of his work, RLS is also known as “Ekbom’s disease”. The RLS Foundation has established Dr. Ekbom’s birthday, September 23, as the annual International RLS Awareness Day. While describing RLS, Dr. Ekbom wrote: “The syndrome is so common and causes such suffering, that it should be known to every physician”. For decades, RLS was “the most common condition you never heard of.” Clinicians ignored RLS in part because they were not equipped to calm the unrelenting sensations that characterize this intricate condition. Thanks to the development and widespread advertising of more effective means of keeping patient’s symptoms in check with the dopamine agonists Requip® (ropinirole hydrochloride) and Mirapex® (Pramipexole dihydrochloride), RLS is finally getting the recognition that it deserves by physicians and the general public. [1][2]

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