RLS and Huntington’s Disease

There are diseases and conditions that regularly co-occur with RLS. One of them is Huntington’s disease.

I wrote a blog about secondary RLS before. In it I mention a number of those other diseases. Examples include rheumatism, neuropathy, thyroid and kidney disorders, fibromyalgia and cardiovascular disease.

Huntington’s disease is mentioned less often in connection with restless legs. That is why I am now paying attention to it.

What is Huntington’s disease

Huntington’s disease is a hereditary and incurable disease. Certain parts of the brain are affected by the disease. Huntington’s is a progressive disease, which means that the symptoms worsen over time.

The cause is an abnormal gene. The disease is passed from parent to child. If one of the parents carries the gene, the child has a 50% chance of also having it.

In Huntington’s patients make involuntary movements. Muscles stiffen over time and movements slow down. Talking and swallowing can become difficult. Patients with Huntington’s disease often lose weight due to swallowing difficulties.

There is also a mental decline, such as slower thinking, and other psychological symptoms, such as sadness or anger.

The disease usually first manifests itself between the ages of 35 and 50. Complaints differ per person. After the first symptoms, the patient lives an average of 15 to 20 years.

Since 1993, it has been possible to diagnose the disease through DNA testing. There is no cure for Huntington. The disease also cannot be slowed down.

However, medications are prescribed as symptoms worsen. The pros and cons of certain medications are then weighed up per person. Physiotherapy or, for example, occupational therapy sometimes also help to reduce the complaints.

The list of possible drugs for Huntington’s disease includes dopamine agonists, antidepressants and sleeping pills. I particularly notice these because they also appear on the list of medicines that are prescribed for restless legs.

Movement disorders

Huntington falls under movement disorders, including Parkinson’s. These are neurological movement disorders.

I think the link is easily made with PLMD (Periodic Limb Movement Disorder). About 80% of people with RLS also suffer from PLMD. I wrote a blog about this before.

In PLMD, arms and/or legs make involuntary movements and thus cause sleep disturbances. This movement mainly happens at night, while sleeping. Most people don’t wake up from this.

Dopamine agonists are prescribed for both RLS and PLMD. In Huntington’s disease, this also happens in case of severe exacerbation of involuntary movements.

Dopamine agonists simulate the action of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is important for your control over movements, among other things.

Restless legs

One of the possible additional symptoms of Huntington is one or more sleep disorders.

I read that up to 90% of people with Huntington’s disease have sleeping problems. You should think of having trouble falling asleep, waking up often, moving while sleeping and daytime sleepiness.

In an article on this topic I also read that patients with Huntington’s have less REM sleep.

The involuntary movement while sleeping also seems to me to be a case of PLMD. In the article, however, this nighttime movement is considered restless leg syndrome. I have often noticed that the two conditions are confused.

In another article, restless legs are mentioned as a secondary side effect of neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s (and Parkinson’s). In other words: diseases in which brain functions continue to deteriorate during the course of the disease.

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