Restless legs syndrome is in the genes

 Audio Symbol

Listen to Podcast (2 min. 51 sec.)
Click below to launch player


Download MP3
Podcast Help

David Rye, MD, PhD:
Restless legs syndrome is in the genes

"RLS Is In the Genes"
View video in larger size on YouTube.

Restless legs syndrome, or RLS, most often occurs under the cover of darkness. The syndrome is characterized by an unpleasant throbbing and a creeping sensation, which elicit an intense urge to move or kick the legs. As a result, RLS disrupts sleep, causing insomnia and fatigue.

Curiously, standard medical education pays little attention to RLS, driving many medical professionals, educators and academicians to question its frequency and even its authenticity. But neurologist David Rye, MD, PhD, who studies RLS, says the syndrome is very real. In fact, Rye is part of an international team of researchers who were the first to identify a gene, that is, a genetic trait, associated with RLS.

“Restless legs is a genetic trait,” says Rye. “Nature loads the gun. Nuture pulls the trigger. Something happens to trigger it.  It could be a neuropathy, it could be a spinal cord injury, it could be liver failure, it could be kidney failure, or iron deficiency. The gene variant associated with RLS is very common, particularly among those of northern European heritage. So many people are walking around, as I intimated, loaded, and ready to experience restless legs."

Not only is RLS annoying, it can lead to adverse health conditions such as heart disease and hypertension, “There’s pretty good data that there’s an increased risk for cardiovascular disease,” says Rye. “When you kick more your blood pressure goes up by about 30 mm of mercury. But the relationship between feeling restless legs and what you’re doing, unknowingly, in your sleep, which is kicking, is not a one-to-one relationship.”

 To hear Rye’s own words about his work studying RLS, use the player at the top of this page or subscribe to the podcast.