Emory Report

July 10, 2000

 Volume 52, No. 37

Barkley Forum

New drug effective weapon against restless legs

By Lillian Kim

Emory neurologists have found that the drug ropinirole is a safe and effective treatment for restless legs syndrome (RLS), a common but often undiagnosed neurological disorder.

An open-label study found that low doses of ropinirole resulted in moderate to large improvement in symptoms in two-thirds of patients. Lead author Alan Freeman, assistant professor of neurology, presented the findings at the American Academy of Neurology's 52nd Annual Meeting in San Diego in May.

"This study suggests that low-dose ropinirole is an effective and well-tolerated treatment for RLS," Freeman said. "This is important because RLS is a common condition that may affect 5 percent to 15 percent of the population. It's a nuisance and can seriously disrupt one's life."

Out of the 18 patients in the study, 12 showed a moderate to marked reduction (25 percent to 100 percent) in RLS disability scores after four weeks on the drug. Five of the remaining patients showed minimal improvement. Patients commonly reported minor side effects including gastrointestinal discomfort, dizziness, headache and drowsiness.

Ropinirole is a dopamine agonist that received federal approval in 1997 for the treatment of Parkinson's disease.

The dosages used in the Emory RLS study are much lower than those typically prescribed for Parkinson's, Freeman said. Ropinirole is sold under the brand name Requip by the pharmaceutical company SmithKline Beecham.

The hallmark of RLS is an involuntary urge to move the legs and other extremities, often accompanied by a tingling or crawling sensation in the legs. Symptoms typically worsen during the evening, especially when lying down or attempting to fall asleep. RLS not only disturbs sleep but also affects waking hours.

"For example, a lot of patients can't sit through a movie," Freeman said, adding that long car rides or airplane trips also can be frustrating to people with RLS.

The study was supported by a research grant from Smith-Kline Beecham Pharmaceuticals.

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