Stimulators implanted in the lower spine can help up to 1 in 15 Brits with restless leg syndrome5 min read

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A buzzer for bad backs could help people with restless legs sleep better. Stimulators implanted in the lower back are being used to ease restless legs syndrome, a condition that affects up to one in 15 Britons and causes an overwhelming urge to move their legs.

This is often accompanied by a crawling or creeping sensation in the feet, calves and thighs.

Symptoms are usually worse at night, making people feel restless in bed when awake and jerking their legs repeatedly while asleep. Although it can be a symptom of other conditions, including iron deficiency and diabetes, in many cases the cause is unknown.

A buzzer for bad backs could help people with restless legs sleep better. Stimulators implanted in the lower back are being used to ease restless legs syndrome, a condition that affects up to one in 15 Britons and causes an overwhelming urge to move their legs

A buzzer for bad backs could help people with restless legs sleep better. Stimulators implanted in the lower back are being used to ease restless legs syndrome, a condition that affects up to one in 15 Britons and causes an overwhelming urge to move their legs

Treatments include medication that raises levels of the brain chemical dopamine, which helps control movement, as well as anticonvulsants, muscle relaxants and sleeping tablets such as benzodiazepines. But they do not work for all and some carry a risk of dependence or addiction, so new options are needed. Now, a serendipitous discovery in the U.S. has led to a stimulator that is normally used to combat chronic pain being tested on restless legs.

Spinal cord stimulation is used by the NHS to treat neuropathic pain, including some back pain, caused by injury to the nerves, rather than by damage to the other tissues, such as the joints and muscles. It involves implanting leads or electrodes next to the spinal cord in a one-hour operation under local anaesthetic. These are attached to a watch-size battery and generator implanted under the skin of the lower back during the procedure.

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The leads are switched on and off by a remote control, creating a small electrical field designed to stimulate the nerves in the painful area.

This interferes with the pain signals, stopping them reaching the brain.

DoctorS at Iowa University implanted a stimulator in a 75-year-old man to treat his long-standing back pain. He’d also suffered for years with restless legs, with a symptom score of 33, where 40 is the worst possible. The man’s diary showed he switched on the device for just over half an hour, on average, each evening, before going to sleep.

To his doctor’s surprise, as well as curing his back pain, his restless legs disappeared.

Spinal cord stimulation is used by the NHS to treat neuropathic pain, including some back pain, caused by injury to the nerves, rather than by damage to the other tissues, such as the joints and muscles. It involves implanting leads or electrodes next to the spinal cord in a one-hour operation under local anaesthetic. These are attached to a watch-size battery and generator implanted under the skin of the lower back during the procedure (stock image)

Spinal cord stimulation is used by the NHS to treat neuropathic pain, including some back pain, caused by injury to the nerves, rather than by damage to the other tissues, such as the joints and muscles. It involves implanting leads or electrodes next to the spinal cord in a one-hour operation under local anaesthetic. These are attached to a watch-size battery and generator implanted under the skin of the lower back during the procedure (stock image)

‘Remarkably, his symptoms of restless legs, including the severe need to shake his legs and get up out of bed, had completely abated and he was no longer taking any medications,’ said the researchers, who report in the journal World Neurosurgery that his symptom score dropped from 33 to zero.

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The U.S. team is now carrying out a clinical trial in which 25 patients who have chronic pain as well as restless legs will have the device implanted.

The researchers aren’t clear why the stimulator eases restless legs but believe it may be to do with blood flow.

Iron supplements can reduce symptoms of restless legs 

Iron supplements can reduce symptoms of restless legs, according to a new study by Israeli researchers who analysed data from ten international trials involving different amounts of supplements, and report their findings in the European Journal of Internal Medicine. The team, from Tel Aviv University, says that supplementation is thought to help as low levels of iron in the blood can lead to a fall in dopamine, triggering restless legs syndrome. 

A Finnish study found that the lower the oxygen levels in the lower limbs, the more restless a person’s legs were. Stimulating the spinal cord may increase blood flow, and so the supply of oxygen to the legs easing symptoms.

Coincidentally, another team, from Duke University in the U.S., have reported similar success with patients with restless legs being treated for chronic pain, but have another theory for how it may work.

Writing in the journal Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery, they said stimulation may increase levels of dopamine.

This brain chemical helps co-ordinate movement and a drop in production can cause muscle spasms and other involuntary movements.

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Autism has been linked to mutations in ‘junk’ DNA, the 98 per cent of our genes the purpose of which are not fully understood because they don’t, unlike the other 2 per cent, instruct proteins to carry out tasks in our bodies.

Computer analysis of the genes of 1,790 people with autism and their families, published in the journal Nature Genetics, found the number of autism cases linked to mutations in ‘junk’ DNA was similar to the number linked to protein-coding DNA.

This is the first clear demonstration of such mutations causing any complex human disorder, say the researchers, who hope now to explore the role of junk DNA in cancer and heart disease.

Blood pressure and ¿bad¿ cholesterol could be lowered by drinking tomato juice. In a study of around 500 men and women at risk of cardiovascular disease were provided with unlimited unsalted tomato juice over one year

Blood pressure and ‘bad’ cholesterol could be lowered by drinking tomato juice. In a study of around 500 men and women at risk of cardiovascular disease were provided with unlimited unsalted tomato juice over one year

Blood pressure and ‘bad’ cholesterol could be lowered by drinking tomato juice.

In a study of around 500 men and women at risk of cardiovascular disease were provided with unlimited unsalted tomato juice over one year.

At the end of the study, detailed in the journal Food Science & Nutrition, the participants’ blood pressure had dropped significantly.

The study is the first to investigate the effects of tomato intake on cardiovascular disease risk markers over the course of a year, say the researchers from Tokyo Medical and Dental University, who hope to investigate why it has this beneficial effect.