Restless Legs Syndrome Linked With Physical Functioning Problems

03/07/2014 08:19 am ET | Updated Mar 07, 2014
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Men with restless legs syndrome could also be more likely to experience problems with daily physical tasks, such as climbing stairs, lifting groceries and walking relatively short distances, according to a new study.

Restless legs syndrome is a condition where a person feels unpleasant sensations -- such as throbbing or pulling -- in the legs, and an urge to move the legs, primarily during nighttime when lying down and/or relaxing.

The study, published in the journal Neurology and conducted by researchers at Harvard and Peking Union Medical College, involved 12,556 men who were part of the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. They were between ages 40 and 75 at the start of the study and were followed for six years. Researchers asked the participants about symptoms of restless legs syndrome, as well as their physical functioning.

The men who reported restless legs syndrome symptoms at the start of the study had lower scores in the questionnaire assessing physical functioning six years later, researchers found, even after taking into account factors such as age, obesity and smoking status.

"Interestingly, the strength of association between severe RLS [restless legs syndrome] symptoms and loss of PF [physical function] observed in this study is in similar order of magnitude to five years of aging and to modifiable risk factors such as overweight, smoking, hypertension, and other common diseases like depression," researchers wrote in the study.

In a related editorial written by experts from the Boston University School of Medicine and the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, it was pointed out that restless legs syndrome affects anywhere from 3.9 to 14.3 percent of the population.

The editorial also noted that previous work by the study authors has shown links between restless legs syndrome and more serious health conditions, including heart disease and even a greater risk of death.

"In terms of exact relationship of RLS to its comorbidities, the field as a whole is still undecided as to whether RLS predisposes to a variety of medical disorders including cardiovascular disease, whether a variety of medical disorders including cardiovascular disease predisposes to RLS, both, or neither," the editorial said. "More work needs to be done to unravel these potentially important relationships and the current article is an important step in that direction."

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