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Restless legs syndrome is a movement disorder that causes uncomfortable sensations in the limbs and a powerful urge to move the legs, particularly at night. While we don't know what causes the disease, we do know that it tends to run in families.

We are currently looking for changes in the structure and function of the brain in people with restless legs syndrome, which will hopefully bring us closer to understanding the cause of this disease.


Restless legs syndrome is thought to affect around 1 in 20 people, although it's likely that this condition is under-reported. Symptoms include crawling, tingling or aching sensations in the legs and sometimes arms. Symptoms often flare up at night, and can disturb sleep. People with this condition find that getting up and moving their legs can temporarily relieve symptoms. As a result, sleep deprivation is a common side effect of this condition.

Restless legs syndrome affects people of all ages, and generally worsens with age. Drug treatments are available, but can increase symptoms in some people.

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About our research 

Assoc Prof Kay Double is currently undertaking a study to help us understand what happens in the brain to cause the symptoms of restless legs syndrome.

We are using ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look for changes in the structure and function of the brain, particularly in an area known as the nigrostriatal tract. This bundle of nerves is involved in the control of movement.

Our preliminary results suggest that people with this disorder have up to 80 percent less function in this brain region compared with healthy people.

We are currently recruiting people for this study. Find out more about participating here.

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Related news and multimedia

16 November 2011 | Brain researchers look for cause of restless legs syndrome | NeuRA

8 December 2011 | Restless legs syndrome cure | Channel Ten News

17 November 2011 | Restless riddle unravels | Courier Mail

17 November 2011 | Calling restless participants | Australian Ageing Agenda

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