Restless Leg Syndrome
When I was in middle-school, I had one friend who would always yell at me for moving my legs at the strangest times. Even when we would have sleepovers and I would be trying so hard to fall asleep, I literally could not stop moving my legs. This wouldn’t happen all the time, but when it did, it was beyond frustrating. I would be watching a movie and suddenly have the urge to get up and run on a treadmill just so my legs would chill. It was like a tingling in my lower legs that would only go away if I was moving them somehow.
I’ve heard the term “restless leg syndrome,” but I never really thought it was an actual disorder. It’s not very serious but it is when there is an uncomfortable sensation in your legs that will only go away when you make movements. There’s really no specific test for RLS, but Doctors think it affects roughly 10% of the American population. Some scientists think that it’s caused by irregular dopamine transmissions. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is a chemical that affects the body’s reward and motivating system. In another blog that I wrote, I said that this is the chemical that is believed to cause extroverts to be so outgoing.
Unlike some medical mysteries, scientists think they may have found a mechanism for what causes this unrestful disorder. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University evaluated a group of forty-eight participants. Twenty-eight of these participants had RLS, and twenty of them did not. Using an MRI, the levels of glutamate in each participant’s brain were measured. After measuring each patient’s sleep pattern for 2 nights, the levels of glutamate in each participant’s brain were measured again. After the 2 nights of sleep, the levels of glutamate in participants who suffered from RLS were much higher than those who did not. Like dopamine, glutamate is a neurotransmitter, but glutamate stimulates the body’s brain and the central nervous system. This allows scientists to rule out some possible third variables, but not all of them. But the discovery of the correlation between RLS and glutamate could possibly only be correlation.
Take Home Message: This study was very important for the progression of understanding RLS because most studies that were previously done measured dopamine levels. This is an example of how our own intuition can block us from seeing the answers to questions we have been studying for years. Even though this isn’t a very serious issue, if it had been a more serious problem, who knows how many people would have died because scientists were studying the wrong variable