06/13/2013 08:13 am ET

Restless Legs Syndrome Linked To Earlier Death Risk


Men with restless legs syndrome already have a hard time sleeping. Now they have something else to worry about. A new study finds that these men may not live as long as those without the condition.

In a study of nearly 20,000 men, Harvard researchers 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.

"RLS affects five to 10 percent of adults across the country," said study author Dr. Xiang Gao in a press release. Gao is also a member of the American Academy of Neurology. "Our study highlights the importance of recognizing this common but underdiagnosed disease."

When the researchers removed from their study those 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.

"We found that the increased risk was not associated with the usual known risk factors, such as older age, being overweight, lack of sleep, smoking, being physically inactive and having an unhealthy diet," Gao said in a press release. "The increased mortality in RLS was more frequently associated with respiratory disease, endocrine disease, nutritional/metabolic disease and immunological disorders. Through research, we need to pinpoint why and how RLS leads to this possible higher risk of dying early."

The study was published online this week in the journal Neurology.

Someone with restless legs syndrome typically is bothered by an uncomfortable desire to move their legs. Sometimes it can feel like a burning sensation in one's thighs, calves or feet. In general, symptoms tend to get worse in the evenings and at night, and can be relieved by walking, stretching or moving around.

Previous studies show that restless legs syndrome often occurs within families.



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