Ropinirole appears effective against restless legs syndrome

April 30, 2000

Emory University neurologists have found that the drug ropinirole is a safe and effective treatment for restless legs syndrome (RLS), a common but often undiagnosed neurologic disorder.

An open-label study at Emory found that low doses of ropinirole resulted in moderate to large improvement in symptoms in two-thirds of patients.

Emory neurologist Alan Freeman, M.D., the study's lead author, will present the findings Monday, May 1 at the American Academy of Neurology's 52nd Annual Meeting in San Diego.

"This study suggests that low-dose ropinirole is an effective and well-tolerated treatment for RLS," Dr. Freeman said. "This is important because RLS is a common condition that may affect five to 15 percent of the population. It's a nuisance, and can seriously disrupt one's life."

Out of the 18 patients in the study, 12 showed a moderate to marked reduction, ranging from 25 to 100 percent, in RLS disability scores after four weeks on the drug. Five of the remaining patients showed minimal improvement. Patients commonly reported minor side effects, including gastrointestinal discomfort, dizziness, headache and drowziness.

Ropinirole is a dopamine agonist that received federal approval in 1997 for the treatment of Parkinson's disease. The dosages used in the Emory RLS study are much lower than those typically prescribed for Parkinson's disease, Dr. Freeman said. Ropinirole is sold under the brand name Requip® by the pharmaceutical company SmithKline Beecham.

The hallmark of the syndrome is an involuntary urge to move the legs and other extremities, often accompanied by a tingling or crawling sensation in the legs. Symptoms typically worsen during the evening, especially when lying down or attempting to fall asleep. RLS not only disturbs sleep, but also affects waking hours.

"For example, a lot of patients can't sit through a movie," Dr. Freeman said, adding that long car rides or airplane trips also can be frustrating to people with RLS.

The study was supported by a research grant from SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals.

Emory University Health Sciences Center

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