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Restless legs syndrome 

Restless legs syndrome
Restless legs syndrome

Ivan Donaldson

, C. David Marsden

, Susanne A. Schneider

, and Kailash P. Bhatia

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date: 05 July 2022

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) has been known in medicine for over three centuries and in 1685 Thomas Willis gave a graphic description of the woes endured by those who suffer from this disorder. He wrote ‘Wherefore to some, when being a Bed they betake themselves to sleep, presently in the Arms and Legs, Leapings and Contractions of the Tendons, and so great a Restlessness and Tossing of their members ensue, that the diseased are no more able to sleep, than if they were in a Place of the greatest Torture’. Huss (1849) pointed out that chronic alcoholism could be associated with creeping sensations in the legs when lying in bed, forcing a sufferer to move the limbs about. Wittmaack (1861) used the terms ‘anxietas tibiarum’ to refer to this disorder, which he regarded as a manifestation of hysteria. In 1880 Beard, in a book on the topic of ‘nervous exhaustion’, commented ‘Fidgetiness and nervousness, inability to keep still – a sensation that amounts to pain – is sometimes unspeakably distressing. When the legs feel this way, the sufferer must get up and walk or run, even though he be debilitated and is made worse by severe exercise’. Beard felt the disorder resulted from ‘spinal irritation’. Oppenheim (1923) also described the disorder, while Mussio-Forurnier and Rawak (1940) gave the first account of the familial nature of the problem. It was left to Ekbom (1944, 1945) to provide the first systematic study of the complaint and it was through his work that the condition became widely recognized. He coined the term ‘restless legs’ and drew attention to the fact that neurological examination was normal.

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