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VUMC lauded by Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation

Apr. 14, 2016, 8:28 AM

The Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation has recognized Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) as a Quality Care Center in treating and supporting people with the neurological disease.

The designation is new, but VUMC already had a robust research program aimed at better understanding RLS. VUMC has also launched a Nashville RLS Support Group, which will have its second meeting at noon on Saturday, April 23, in the first floor conference room at Vanderbilt Health One Hundred Oaks, 719 Thompson Lane.


RLS, which is also known as Willis-Ekbom disease, causes an irresistible urge to move the legs, often accompanied by unusual or unpleasant sensations. The symptoms, which can range from mild to severe, may also involve arms and other body parts.

Arthur Walters, M.D., who leads the RLS program at VUMC, founded the International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group and led the effort to establish diagnostic criteria to determine the severity of the disease in patients. He was also the first physician to chair the Medical Advisory Board for the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation.

“It exists in about 10 percent of the population,” Walters said. “But if you take the percentage of the population that is seriously affected, where they need some kind of treatment, where their quality of life is down because they are not sleeping at night or they are not able to sit at a dinner or they are not able to go to a movie, it amounts to about 2.7 percent of the population.”

The more severe form of the disease affects a smaller percentage of children and adolescents.

RLS symptoms can be treated with five different treatments, Walters said. They include iron supplements for patients with low iron levels, dopaminergic agents that stimulate the dopamine receptors in the brain, calcium-channel anticonvulsants, benzodiazipine depressants and pain medications when other therapies fail.

Walters and colleagues are currently working on two RLS research initiatives funded by the National Institutes of Health. One is aimed at better understanding the role that the mineral manganese may play in the disease. The other strives to understand how genes that are more commonly associated with RLS may alter its symptoms.

The Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation launched the Quality Care Center program to help RLS patients find knowledgeable providers. VUMC is the eighth center it has certified.

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