Restless Legs: In Your Head or In Your Genes?

11/21/2008 MUNICH, Germany Betty Shaw and her daughter Cyndi Foshee work side by side. Not only do they share their love for flowers. This mother-daughter team share the same genes … some they wish they didn't.

"My legs jerk first, and then it feels like something crawling in it," Shaw told Ivanhoe.

"Just when you get to sleep good, it would start, and then you're up," Foshee revealed to Ivanhoe.

Both suffer from restless legs syndrome, or RLS, and now, another female in the family is getting up during the night with leg pains.

"My 18-year-old daughter is starting to show signs of it," Foshee said.

Fifty percent of all sufferers say family members also have it. That's the case for this man.

"He's a member of one of the largest RLS families in the world," Juliane Winkelmann, M.D., a neurologist at Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany explained.

Out of 70 family members living in Bavaria, 20 of them experience pain, itching and an incredible urge to keep moving their legs. Until now, there's been no cause, but a team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute in Germany has tracked down genes that may be responsible.

"We identified genetic variants in three genes and these variants increased the risk to develop RLS," Dr. Winklemann stated.

It you have these genes, researchers say you're 20-times more likely to get RLS. This new finding could lead to a cure to stop the pain. For now, some natural ways to relieve symptoms include an increase in folate, taking a multivitamin, eliminating caffeine and taking two aspirins before bedtime. Symptoms can affect everyone in your family differently.

"It's possible that some individuals only have symptoms a few times in their life and don't really recognize their symptoms as a disease, and on the other hand, in the same family, there are some family members which are really severely affected," Dr. Winklemann revealed.

A recent Harvard study found that people with RLS are two-times more likely to have a stroke or heart attack. RLS may also be linked to pregnancy, anemia and iron deficiency.

As for Shaw and Foshee, they're hoping to get relief tonight and a cure in the near future.

Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke


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