I was thrilled to find an article in USA Today summing up studies showing a genetic link to Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). Remember, RLS is that condition where people get a creepy, crawly sensation in their legs, usually around bedtime when they lie down. It goes away when they get up. I hear horror stories from patients about trying to sleep with RLS because they can’t help but thrash their legs around in attempts to get rid of the odd sensation. I know, if you don’t suffer from RLS you might assume it’s like an allergic reaction (i.e., itching) or some type of spasm. But it’s very real. You also may have noticed ads on TV promoting the drugs that have recently emerged to treat RLS. While there are times when I wonder about the pharmaceutical industry—over-treating a disorder and such—this is not one of those times.
RLS has been a mystery for quite some time, and the jury is still out on its exact cause. Now that scientists have linked certain genes to RLS, we may be moving toward a better idea about what RLS is exactly and what causes it. This is good news. Even better news is hearing that we now have more reason to call it a true health problem than an imagined one.
But the debate is just getting started. No one can agree on how prevalent RLS is in the population, and there’s a lot more research that needs to be done. The same can be said for other sleep-related issues, which is what makes my field so intriguing and ever-evolving. I love a good debate.
Speaking of debates, let me throw this one out: why do some medical conditions have to have such, well, less-than-inspired names? I have to admit, “restless leg syndrome” may not have been my pick; it’s more fit for a sitcom—and ironically the USA Today article mentions how RLS was featured once in a Seinfeld episode. (If you recall, Kramer expresses how disturbed he feels that his girlfriend has “the jimmy legs” and kicks in bed.)
As more disorders and conditions become identified in medicine in general, it’s great to see the science emerging to help shed light on these often weird and obscure conditions. My field in particular should benefit tremendously with new science. Who knows, maybe RLS will get a fresh name when we truly understand it. After all, “syndromes” and “disorders” don’t get much appreciation these days. “Social anxiety disorder,” for instance, is another one whose name makes for a fun conversation. Who came up with that?