Thursday, December 8, 2016




1. Irresistible urge to move legs accompanied by uncomfortable or unpleasant sensations in the legs,
2. The urge to move legs is more during periods of immobility or rest,
3. The urge is partially or completely relieved by movement,
4. The urge to move legs is more in evenings or nights as compared to day time (or is present only during evenings or nights).

These symptoms should occur at least three times per week, and should be present for at least three months, before we can put a label of RLS. Also, these symptoms should cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational and daily life. 

85% of patients with RLS also have periodic leg movements (involuntary forceful dorsiflexion of foot lasting 0.5-5 seconds, occurring every 20-40 seconds throughout sleep) at nights. 

Many people suffering from RLS also have sleep disturbance at nights and daytime fatigue. 

What age-group patients are affected with RLS?

Symptoms of RLS may start in infancy, however, most patients are diagnosed in their middle ages. There is often a delay of 10-20 years in diagnosis.

RLS is quite common and about 5-15% of population may be affected. 

Women are more commonly affected than men, in a ratio of 2:1. 

What are the causes of RLS?

Majority of cases of RLS are idiopathic (no obvious cause) due to a disturbance in brain neurotransmitters (dopamine or serotonin). These are also called primary RLS. 25-75% of idiopathic RLS is familial with a genetic component. Familial cases start early (<45 years of age) and progress slowly.

RLS is called secondary RLS, if it is caused due to another disease. There are several such causes:

  • Peripheral neuropathy,
  • Iron deficiency,
  • Folate deficiency,
  • Magnesium deficiency,
  • Diabetes mellitus,
  • Rheumatoid arthritis,
  • Renal failure,
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency,
  • Frequent blood donation,
  • Pregnancy,
  • Drug-induced (neuroleptics, antidepressants, beta blockers, lithium, alcohol, caffeine).
Are there any tests needed to confirm the diagnosis of RLS?

No tests are needed to confirm a diagnosis of RLS, and the diagnosis can be made on the basis of clinical symptoms. Tests may be done to exclude secondary causes of RLS. 

What is the long-term outcome in patients with RLS?

The symptoms of RLS get worse over time and most have significant problems after age 50. Sleep impairment is common. There is increased risk of getting hypertension and headaches (including migraines). 

How is RLS treated?

There are effective medications available to treat RLS:

1. Dopamine agonists: ropinirole, pramipexole, rotigotine, cabergoline.
2. Levodopa,
3. Gabapentin or pregabalin,
4. Opioids in severe cases. 

Senior Consultant Neurologist
Apollo Hospitals, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad
Phone- 040-23607777/60601066 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016



Brain is, without any argument, the most important organ of our body. We depend on brain to ensure better performance of all useful activities, be it related to our jobs or household chores. Some of the important functions of brain include memory, reasoning, judgment, language, calculation, etc. Having understood the importance of brain and its functions, it is equally important to understand the measures needed to take good care of the brain.

Nutritious diet, regular physical activity, freedom from stress and anxiety, sound & adequate sleep, regular brain “exercises” (solving crossword puzzles, Sudoku, etc), preventing head injury and avoiding smoking, are important measures that ensure good brain health.

The purpose of this article is to emphasize the important role played by silence in the wellbeing of brain. Who has not heard this- “If speech is silver, silence is gold”!

In our daily lives, we are surrounded by different kinds of noise and sounds most of the time. These include sound of vehicles, loud music, ringing of smartphones, and so on. This “noise pollution” has a detrimental effect on our brain and body. Various research studies have shown that exposure to noise leads to higher incidence of elevated blood pressure, which is an important risk factor for heart attacks and brain strokes. Noise pollution also causes impairment of hearing; sleep disturbances, and problems with memory and concentration. Studies have concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.  

If noise has so much of adverse effects on brain, silence should have just the opposite effect- and it is indeed so.
1. Silence leads to lowering of heart rate and blood pressure. This effect on BP lowering is seen with as little as two minutes of silence. Lowering the BP would lead to a lesser incidence of brain strokes.
2. Silence is relaxing and rejuvenating. In this 24X7 work environment with exposure to various sounds, our brain gets muddled and then, we cannot focus and concentrate. Therefore, we need periods of quiet and calm to allow our brains to recharge. Some people use music to relax. While music does relax the brain, it is interesting to note that silence has far greater effects on brain relaxation than music.
3. Silence promotes better sleep. We have all experienced the difficulties in falling or maintaining good sleep, when exposed to sounds or noise. In silent environment, on the other hand, sleep is sound and relaxing. Better sleep translates into better functioning of brain. Growth hormone is secreted in brain during sleep. Consolidation of memory and learning also occurs during sleep. Good sleep is also a stress buster and lowers BP.
4. Silence may improve memory. In an interesting experiment conducted on mice, it was found that exposing them to two hours of silence per day led to development of new neurons in the hippocampus area of the brain. Hippocampus is mainly involved in memory, emotion and learning. So, there is a high possibility that these brain functions would improve, if one is exposed to even short periods of silence on daily basis.
5. Silence is a stress buster. When a person is stressed and anxious, one of the best and easiest quick fixes is to take rest (sit or lie down) in complete silence. While it may be tempting to get a counseling done by a family member or a psychologist for stress, it is equally important to have periods of silence to overcome stress.
6. Silence improves our ability to concentrate and focus. In our daily lives, we are constantly exposed to stimuli- sounds as well as sights. This makes our brains foggy and inattentive, leading to difficulty in concentrating. In this situation, the ability to solve problems or to come up with new ideas is greatly hampered. Silence, even for short periods, comes to our rescue in this condition. Silence makes the brain fresh and energetic. One can solve complex problems and come up with bright new ideas after a brief period of silence.
7. Silence helps us tap the hidden talents and strengths in our own brain. Brain has immense capacity and resources, which largely remain untapped. This is because one cannot look deep inside his brain, when exposed to distractions of sounds/noise. On the other hand, in a silent environment, one can daydream, fantasise or think and be more creative. As Herman Melville once wrote, "All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence."
8. Silence reduces the risk of heart attacks and brain strokes by reducing plaque formation in the arteries. 
All these beneficial effects of silence on brain should prompt us to seek silence everyday in our busy lives, even if it is for a brief period. Moreover, sitting in silence is free, easily accessible, and has no side effects.

This article was modified and published in September 2016  issue of B POSITIVE magazine, a heath and wellness magazine.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016



1. Increased risk of road traffic accidents: Road traffic injuries account for 1.25 million deaths per year. They are the leading causes of death in young age group (15-29 years). Drink driving is a major risk factor for road traffic accidents. Driving under the influence of alcohol accounts for about one-third of all deaths in road accidents. It should be noted that the victims are most often the passengers, pedestrians or children, who have not consumed alcohol.
2. Increased risk of cancer: Alcohol drinking is significantly associated with cancer of seven sites in body. These are throat, larynx (voice box), esophagus (food pipe), liver, colon, bowel and breast. Drinking just 50 grams of alcohol per day can increase the risk of mouth cancer by seven times (as compared to non-drinkers). About 6% of all deaths due to cancer can be attributed to alcohol intake. This study was recently published in the Journal Addiction. The full test of the article can be accessed at the following link:
3.  Increased risk of stroke: Alcohol consumption increases the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, atrial fibrillation and liver disease; all of these increase the risk of stroke. Alcohol consumption also leads to higher death rates in patients with stroke. People drinking alcohol more than twice a week (irrespective of the amount) have a 3-fold higher risk of death due to stroke as compared to non-drinkers.
4. Memory impairment: Consuming too much alcohol leads to severe memory impairment and dementia in later life. Alcohol causes brain shrinkage (atrophy), malnutrition, deficiency of thiamine and vitamin B12; all of which contribute to memory loss.
5. Damage to peripheral nerves: Alcohol use, if regular and heavy, can lead to damage of nerves in arms and legs, leading to numbness, weakness, burning, pain, etc.
6. Seizures (fits or convulsions): Heavy alcohol drinking can lead to seizures. Sudden withdrawal in a person dependent on alcohol can also lead to seizures.
7. Headache: Alcohol consumption can lead to hangover (with a prominent symptom of headache); worsening of migraine; or headache as a direct effect of alcohol (due to vasodilation and dehydration).
8. Liver disease: Alcohol is a leading cause of liver disease. This includes fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis.
9. Pancreatitis: Inflammation and damage of pancreas occurs in about 5% of alcoholics after 5-10 years of alcohol drinking.
10. Sexual dysfunction: Heavy alcohol drinking can lead to sexual dysfunction in about 75% of people. The most common symptoms are premature ejaculation, low sexual desire and erectile dysfunction.
11. Marital discord and divorce: Alcoholism adversely affects relationships and marriage. Alcoholics are two times more likely to have a divorce as compared to non-alcoholics. In addition, suspicion, infidelity and arguments are more common with if one or both spouses consume alcohol. People consuming alcohol also have delayed marriage.
12. Increased crime rate: Alcohol consumption leads to increase in crime rate. Most states report that alcoholism is involved in 70-85% of crimes, especially against women. These include violence, sexual exploitation, rape, kidnapping, murder, robbery, etc.
13. Increased death rate: 15 people in India die everyday due to alcohol related effects, which means every 96 minutes, one person dies due to alcohol use.

I have enumerated the harmful effects above. I am sure there are many people (especially the ones who drink), who are eager to know the beneficial effects. There are some benefits of alcohol too.
1. Feeling of euphoria and elation: Alcohol has a depressant effect on brain. So, drinking makes one carefree, elated and free from all worries. However, these effects are for short term and are seen with small amounts of alcohol. Heavy alcohol intake leads to sleepiness and confusion.
2. Reduced rate of heart attack: Moderate alcohol consumption may reduce the risk of heart attack by increasing the amount of good cholesterol (HDL). However, exercise can also have the same effect. At present, American Heart Association does NOT advise people to start drinking, if they do not already drink alcohol.
3. Increased sexual desire: Alcohol intake may reduce the inhibition and increase the sexual desire; however, it reduces the testosterone level and hence, the performance. So, the overall effect of alcohol on sex is negative. In addition, alcohol may promote the risk-taking behavior such as not using condoms.

1. Alcohol has several harmful effects on health.
2. Alcohol leads to increased risk of heart disease, brain stroke, dementia, peripheral neuropathy, liver disease and cancers.
3. Alcohol is directly responsible for increased road traffic accidents and deaths.
4. Alcohol is involved in most of the crimes, especially against women.
5. Alcohol use in moderation may have protective effect on heart attacks.
6. Those who do not drink should NOT start drinking alcohol.
7. Those who drink should drink in moderation.

(Disclaimer: I do not drink alcohol)

Dr SUDHIR KUMAR MD (Medicine) DM (Neurology)
Senior Consultant Neurologist
Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad

Phone: 0091-40-23607777/60601066

Wednesday, July 20, 2016



Levodopa is one of the most important medicines used for treating Parkinson’s disease (PD). It is sold in combination of levodopa and carbidopa. The commonly used brand names for this medicine are syndopa, sinemet, tidomet and duodopa. Levodopa is very useful in ameliorating the symptoms of PD, especially the tremors and rigidity. However, there are several important points of note regarding its use. The current article highlights a few of them.

1. Try to avoid levodopa use in early PD: Though levodopa is very effective in controlling symptoms of PD even in early stage, it is better to avoid using it in early PD. This is because the risk of dyskinesia (abnormal movements as a side effect of levodopa) and rapid wearing off (reduced efficacy of levodopa) are more common, if levodopa is started early in the course of disease. Also, levodopa loses the efficacy after longer use, so, it makes sense to start it later.

2. Use the lowest effective dose of levodopa: It may be tempting to use levodopa at a higher dose or more frequently, as the symptom control would be better with that. However, for the same reason mentioned above, it is better to use levodopa at the lowest possible dose, and as less frequently as possible.

3. Take levodopa on empty stomach: Presence of food in stomach may interfere with the absorption of levodopa; so, it is better to take levodopa on empty stomach. In the initial days of starting levodopa, there may be nausea or vomiting, so, it may be taken after food or snacks.

4. Reduce or evenly space the amount of protein intake: High protein diet prevents proper absorption of levodopa. So, the protein intake should be evenly spaced out in the day; or better, it can be shifted to dinner time (as most doses of levodopa are taken before dinner time).

5. Avoid pyridoxine (vitamin B6) intake: Pyridoxine can reduce the effects of levodopa, if taken alone. However, pyridoxine does not interfere with the effects, if levodopa is taken along with carbidopa (as in most cases).

6. Hallucinations and psychosis can be a side effect of levodopa: Use of levodopa does increase the risk of visual and auditory hallucinations, and other psychotic reactions (agitation, anger, irritability, etc). However, it is not a simple relationship. The severity & duration of PD, presence of cognitive impairment and daytime somnolence, all increase the risk of psychotic reactions with levodopa use.

7. Avoid using levodopa in late evenings: The risk of hallucinations and other psychotic reactions are higher if levodopa is used in late evenings or nights. So, avoid it at those times, as much as possible.

8. Avoid breaking, crushing or chewing the controlled release (CR) tablets: Those taking medicines such as syndopa CR, tidomet CR, etc should swallow the entire tablet, without breaking or crushing (which would reduce its efficacy).

9. There is a risk of dependence and abuse with levodopa: Levodopa increases the dopamine levels in brain and may cause effects such as euphoria (feeling of extreme happiness) and other positive mental effects. Therefore, a small group of patients with PD may increase the dose of levodopa by self and take upto 1500-2000 mg per day. These patients accept the side effects of high dose levodopa (such as hallucinations, nausea, loss of appetite), in order to experience the positive mental effects. This behavior (of dependence and abuse of levodopa) should be recognised and treated.

10. Other side effects of levodopa to watch for:
a.     Dizziness or fainting sensation on standing up (may occur due to fall in BP on standing),
b.     Feeling of nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite
c.      Sudden sleep episodes: Patients taking levodopa may fall asleep without any drowsiness or warning. It can occur while driving or doing other activities needing full concentration, which can be potentially harmful.
d.     Sleep disturbance or insomnia at nights. 

DR SUDHIR KUMAR MD (Medicine) DM (Neurology)
Senior Consultant Neurologist
Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad, India
Phone: 0091-40-23607777/60601066
Online consultation: