Restless leg syndrome (RLS) or the urge to move the legs, is more common in people with epilepsy than the general public, according to a study published in the scientific journal Epilepsy and Behavior. The authors suggest that the syndrome could in fact be an early warning indicator for seizures. The study also showed that RLS seems to occur more often in people with right temporal lobe epilepsy than in those with left temporal lobe epilepsy. This means that the presence of RLS could help doctors predict which the side of the brain is responsible for the epilepsy in some patients.

For the study, researchers led by Dr Paul Carney, a child neurologist at the University of North Carolina, screened epilepsy patients seen at an outpatient clinic between 2005 and 2015 for movement disorders. They evaluated the patients using the International Restless Legs Study Group questionnaire and the NIH RLS diagnostic criteria. They also measured iron levels in their blood, since a low level of iron is a risk factor for RLS, and performed a polysomnography, which is a comprehensive sleep-screening technique. Almost 100 patients seen in the clinic in this period of time had focal-onset temporal lobe epilepsy. Half of these had right-sided temporal lobe epilepsy and half had left-sided temporal epilepsy. The results showed that moderate-to-severe RLS occurred in 21 of 50 (42%) people with right temporal lobe epilepsy and in 7 of 48 (15%) people with left temporal lobe epilepsy. The researchers calculated that people who had right temporal lobe epilepsy were more than four times as likely to have RLS as those with left temporal lobe epilepsy. Interestingly, some patients experienced a sensation of worsening RLS before seizures. This is important because it could provide doctors with the opportunity to intervene at an earlier stage before a seizure develops. RLS, also known as the Willis-Ekbom disease, is a disorder of the nervous system occurring in around 10% of the general population. Although scientists don’t know its exact cause, they think that it could be due to an imbalance in dopamine in the brain, a chemical that sends messages to control muscle movement. Author: Dr Özge Özkaya. Click here for more articles about conditions related to epilepsy.