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Restless legs syndrome: differential diagnosis and management with pramipexole

Authors Brindani F, Vitetta F, Gemignani F

Published 18 June 2009 Volume 2009:4 Pages 305—313


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Francesca Brindani, Francesca Vitetta, Franco Gemignani

Department of Neurosciences, University of Parma, Italy

Abstract: Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a condition characterized by discomfort at rest and urge to move focused on the legs. RLS may occur as an idiopathic, often hereditary condition (primary RLS), or in association with medical conditions (secondary RLS) including iron deficiency, uremia, and polyneuropathy. Current understanding of the pathophysiology of RLS points to the involvement of three interrelated components: dopaminergic dysfunction, impaired iron homeostasis, and genetic mechanisms. The diagnosis of RLS is made according to the consensus criteria by a National Institutes of Health panel: 1) an urge to move the legs, usually accompanied by uncomfortable sensations; 2) beginning or worsening during rest; 3) relieved by movement; and 4) worse, or only occurring, in the evening or at night. The differential diagnosis of RLS aims to: 1) distinguish RLS from other disorders with RLS-like symptoms and 2) identify secondary forms, with investigation of underlying diseases. The treatment of RLS demands a clinical evaluation to rule out and cure causes of secondary RLS, including iron supplementation when deficient, and to eliminate the triggering factors. The presence of neuropathy should be especially investigated in nonhereditary, late-onset RLS, in view of a possible treatment of the underlying disease. The first line treatment for idiopathic RLS is represented by dopamine agonists, in particular nonergot-derived ropinirole and pramipexole, whereas ergot dopamine agonists (cabergoline and pergolide) are no longer in first-line use given the risks of cardiac valvulopathy. Although no comparative trials have been published, a meta-analysis of pramipexole versus ropinirole suggests differences in efficacy and tolerability favoring pramipexole.

Keywords: restless legs syndrome, pramipexole, dopamine, agonists, small fiber neuropathy

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