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Tuesday, 25 July, 2000, 01:42 GMT 02:42 UK
March of the restless legs
Mystery pain in the legs and feet may affect millions
One in ten people may be suffering from symptoms of "restless legs syndrome" - an unpleasant condition that may be treatable.

A study suggests thousands of cases of the condition, which causes a tingling, itching sensation and unexplained aches and pains in the lower limbs, are going unreported because patients believe there is nothing that can be done.

Dr Barbara Phillips from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine interviewed 1,803 adult men and women over the telephone.

Patients with restless legs syndrome (RLS) have unpleasant symptoms in their calves, thigs and feet, including tingling, aching, itching or stabbing sensations.

One or both legs can be affected, and sometimes the symptoms are felt in the arms as well.

Kicking out

They are most likely to be felt at night, occasionally meaning the sufferer cannot fall asleep easily, and will often have a strong desire to get up and walk about.

Another symptom associated with RLS are involuntary leg movements, particularly when asleep, which can lead to the sufferer kicking out and waking either themselves or their sleeping partner.

Dr Phillips found 9.4% of those she interviewed reported similar symptoms, although the oldest interviewees were more likely to report such aches and pains.

People with diabetes were much more likely to have similar symptoms, as were those who did little exercise, while those who drank virtually no alcohol were unlikely to suffer.

Dr Phillips said: "The results emphasise the need for more medical attention at the primary care level to restless legs - and provide justification for studies."

Although some symptoms can be relieved by applying heat pads, and the condition prevented by cutting down on alcohol and caffeine, doctors occasionally prescribe drugs to help sufferers sleep.

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