Restless legs syndrome linked to higher risk of early death

By | June 13, 2013

Men who suffer from restless legs syndrome may not live as long as those without the condition, according to a new study.

The study found that men with restless legs syndrome (RLS) were nearly 40 percent more likely to die over the eight-year study, compared to men without RLS. When the researchers excluded from their analysis men with major chronic conditions such as cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure, those with RLS were 92 percent more likely to die over the study period.

“The results of this study indicate that men with RLS had a higher overall mortality,” the researchers wrote in their study.

However, the study shows an association, not a cause-and-effect link between having RLSand an increased risk of dying, and the researchers said that it is not known how RLS might increase the mortality risk. In the study, deaths among men with RLS were frequently due to respiratory disease, endocrine disease, metabolic disease and immunologic disorders.

Further research is needed to understand the relationship between these diseases and RLS, the researchers said.

RLS is a bothersome chronic condition that affects 5 to 10 percent of adults. Patients have an irresistible urge to move the legs, and often experience burning and creeping sensations that are described as “an itch you can't scratch,” or “like insects crawling inside the legs.”

In the study, researchers looked at 18,425 men, whose average age was 67, including 700 who were diagnosed with RLS. During an eight-year follow-up, 2,765 of the men died. Among the men with RLS, 25 percent died during the study, compared with 15 percent of those who did not have RLS.

The researchers also found that men with RLS were more likely to use antidepressant drugs, had more insomnia complaints, and were more likely to have high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and Parkinson's disease. However, controlling for these factors didn't change the results, they said.

The link between RLS and higher risk of death was not related to other common risk factors such as smoking, older age, low physical activity and lack of sleep. Moreover, men who had conditions such as high blood pressure, cancer or insomnia, had a further increased risk of death if they had RLS too, according to the study.

The study was published online June 12 in the journal Neurology. Some of the researchers who worked on the study have received money from pharmaceutical companies that make drugs used to treat restless legs syndrome.

“Increasing awareness of RLS, especially training for health professions, should be encouraged if our findings are confirmed by future studies,” the researchers said.

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