History of RLS

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A description documented in 1672, shows that RLS is not a mysterious modern syndrome. Sir Thomas Willis, a British anatomist and physician wrote this observation on the discomfort experienced by RLS sufferers, "...the diseased are no more able to sleep, than if they were in a place of the greatest torture," he describes patients’ positive response to opiate treatment.

Dr Karl Ekbom of Sweden became a pioneer, studying RLS in the early 1940s, and since then the disorder has often been referred to as Ekbom Syndrome. He described how supplements of iron diminished symptoms in some of his patients. In a published report he claimed: "The syndrome is so common and causes such suffering, that it should be known to every physician." We are now into the next century and RLS is still far from having universal awareness amongst medical professionals.

Dr Lugaresi made another major advance when he recorded movements in the legs of patients with RLS by using EMG-recording electrodes. These were actually Periodic Legs Movements in Sleep (PLMS), which are present in about 80% of patients with RLS. There is no device that can measure the more subtle, uncomfortable leg sensations of RLS.

Despite the lack of recognition, understanding of RLS has grown dramatically and the last decade has seen major developments in effective therapies. Most significant was that of Dr Akpinar, who suggested that L-dopa and other dopaminergic agents might be helpful in treating RLS. Numerous well designed and blinded studies have since documented the importance of this finding.