HOUSTON (October 11, 2013)

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) is just the third institution in the country designated as a Willis-Ekbom Disease (WED)/Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation Quality Care Center.

WED, also known as restless legs syndrome (RLS), affects 7 to 10 percent of the U.S. population. The designation recognizes UTHealth as a specialty center in treating WED/RLS patients with a range of complexities and co-morbidities.

William Ondo, MD, professor of neurology at the UTHealth Medical School, is the director of the new center and serves on the Medical Advisory Board of the WED Foundation. He is also a neurologist with the Mischer Neuroscience Institute at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.

“RLS has always been a disease bridging different traditional specialties, variably treated by primary care physicians, neurologists, sleep experts or psychiatrists,” said Ondo, a movement disorder neurologist who has researched the syndrome. “Having a comprehensive place to incorporate all the aspects of treatment is important, especially in the most severe cases.”

According to the WED Foundation, WED/RLS is a common and treatable neurologic disorder that results in an irresistible urge to move the legs or other parts of the body, often accompanied by unusual or unpleasant sensations that may be described as creeping, tugging or pulling. Symptoms most often occur in the evening and can severely disrupt sleep and reduce quality of life.

“It’s brought on by physical and mental inactivity and may improve while a person is physically moving or with intense concentration. Unfortunately, those activities aren’t conducive to sleep afterward,” Ondo said. “Sleep deprivation results in worse symptoms and it just spirals downward.”

Four drugs have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of WED/RLS. Iron deficiency, pregnancy, kidney failure, prescription or over-the-counter medications, alcohol and antihistamines can sometimes cause symptoms of the syndrome.

“Nobody with WED/RLS should have a reduced quality of life,” says WED Foundation Executive Director Georgianna Bell. “This disease can be effectively managed over time, and we aim to work with clinicians to fulfill this expectation.”