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Restless Legs In "Little Ones" Are Causing Sleepless Nights

February 16, 2009

Kansas City, MO - Specialists say "restless leg syndrome" is usually thought of as an adult disorder, so it's possible that many pediatricians are not diagnosing it when it occurs in children. According to the Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation, an estimated 1.5 million children children across the U.S. could suffer from RLS with no one knowing it. Dr. Bob Beckerman is a specialist at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, one of 25 pediatric sleep labs in the country, and says parents need to pay close attention to children's sleep habits.

RLS is a sensory disorder which causes an almost irresistible urge to move the legs, which of course makes it difficult to sleep. Dr. Beckerman says it could be more common in children than formerly thought, especially if it runs in a family. He says it's vital that children develop good sleeping habits, but if they are complaining about their legs, caregivers should have a doctor take a closer look.

"The parents will notice that their legs are moving rhythmically, kicking, they're moving their arms, and it's not just turning over or being restless."

Dr. Beckerman says other symptoms include unpleasant feelings in the legs such as itching or tingling. He says some children have been put on adult sleep medications for RLS - which he calls "treating the symptom" and not the underlying problem. He says iron replacement therapy is proving to be an effective treatment for RLS.

"One of the studies showed that 76 percent of children responded to iron replacement."

He also cautions that this treatment comes with a warning - too much iron can be toxic to children, and parents should not give iron supplements to children, except under a doctor's care.

Dr. Beckerman says the study on the matter is the only large one which has been carried out, and was a collaboration between the Tulane Hospital for Children and the Kosair Children's Hospital.

Laura Thornquist, Public News Service - MO