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Sleep Med. 2011 May;12(5):440-4. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2010.11.002. Epub 2011 Jan 15.

A 10-year, longitudinal assessment of dopamine agonists and methadone in the treatment of restless legs syndrome.

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Dept of Psychology and Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, 3400 N Charles St, Baltimore, MD 21216, USA.



Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a chronic disease, which is managed with palliative medications that are likely to be required for a patient's lifetime. It is, therefore, important to know the long-term consequences of these treatments. Currently, the most commonly prescribed treatment for RLS is one of the dopamine (DA) agonists. Most of what we understand about efficacy and side effects of the DA agonists are, however, derived from relatively short-term studies. This is particularly a problem since these medications produce in some patients a significant increase or augmentation of RLS symptoms known to occur during the first 2 years of treatment and perhaps even later in treatment. The primary aim of this study was to determine the long-term efficacy (10-year) for commonly used RLS medication types: dopaminergic agonists and opioids.


Records of all RLS patients treated in one tertiary care center with pramipexole, pergolide or methadone during the years 1997-2007 were reviewed. The duration and reason for any discontinuation of treatment and medication doses were recorded.


Annual rates for discontinuing treatment persisted for up to 10 years of treatment and were fairly constant after the first year at 9% for pramipexole, 8% for pergolide, and 0% for methadone. Similarly, annual augmentation rates were fairly constant after the first year and persisted for up to 10 years at 7% for pramipexole, 5% for pergolide, and 0% for methadone. The percentage continuing on the treatment medication for over 5 years was 58% for pramipexole and 35% for pergolide.


The DA agonists appear to have a limited period of clinical utility for many patients. Severe augmentation, while not common in any 1 year, can develop even after years on the medication. Methadone, in contrast, shows neither augmentation nor major problems with continued efficacy after the first year of treatment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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