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Restless Leg Syndrome and its strongest side effect – insomnia affect almost 10% of the adults in the U.S. A new study attributes high levels of glutamate, for the insomnia associated with restless leg syndrome. Read on to find out more about the study.

Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a medical condition affecting the nervous system and is characterized by an irresistible urge to move the legs. The restless leg syndrome almost always interferes with sleep and is therefore considered to be a sleeping disorder. People suffering from the restless leg syndrome feel extremely uncomfortable while sitting or lying down and want to get up and move around. Moving around helps relieve the unpleasant feeling of restlessness for some time.

The restless leg syndrome can occur in both children as well as adults. When RLS happens in children, it is often described as an early onset of RLS and in most cases it is hereditary. The early onset of RLS is observed without an accompanying pain. When people suffer from the late onset of RLS, it is not due to hereditary factors but due to a disorder of the nervous system.

Restless Leg Syndrome: Causes

Restless leg syndrome is found in almost 10% of adults in the United States.

Researchers from the John Hopkins Center for RLS have found an explanation for the reason why insomnia persists in people suffering from RLS even when their urge to move the legs has been treated by medication. Research has shown that there are three primary causes of the restless leg syndrome:

  • Deficiency of iron: The deficiency of iron can lead to the RLS. It has also been found that treatment of iron deficiency can alleviate the symptoms of RLS. It has also been found that in patients whose blood tests reveal that they have adequate levels of iron, there might be diminished brain iron reserves. Studies have found that the cerebrospinal fluid of RLS patients is deficient in the iron storage protein known as ferritin.
  • Role of genes: People who suffer from RLS often have a genetic history of this disorder in their family. Researchers have zeroed in on at least six genetic factors that might play a role in the development of RLS. Two of these genes are also linked to the development of the spinal cord.
  • Role of dopamine: Drugs that stimulate the dopamine system have been found to be effective in alleviating the symptoms of restless leg syndrome. RLS is often caused due to an imbalance in the chemical messengers, specifically dopamine and serotonin, in the brain. Dopamine related medications have been found to be effective in curing the symptoms of RLS though a long-term use might worsen the symptoms in many individuals.
  • Increased levels of Glutamate: A new study conducted by Dr. Richard Allen from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine suggests that the insomnia associated with RLS can be attributed to the high levels of glutamate, a brain chemical that is involved in arousal. Glutamate has emerged as one of the main cause behind RLS. The study found that the higher the level of glutamate in the brain cells of people suffering from RLS, the more disturbed was their sleep. Glutamate activity is responsible for controlling the sleep, alertness, and consciousness of an individual.
Continue reading after recommendations

  • “Thalamic glutamate/glutamine in restless legs syndrome: Increased and related to disturbed sleep”, by Richard P. Allen, et al. Published in the May 2013, Volume 80 of Neurology, accessed on November 18, 2013
  • “Low body stores of iron and restless legs syndrome: a correctable cause of insomnia in adolescents and teenagers” by Meir H Kryger, et al. Published in the Volume 3, Issue 2, March 2002 of the Sleep Medicine, accessed on November 18, 2013.
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