Study ties restless legs syndrome to heart, kidney problems

Study ties restless legs syndrome to heart, kidney problems

Imagine trying to lie down and rest but feeling an uncontrollable urge to keep moving your legs.

That, in a nutshell, is the ongoing ordeal facing people with restless legs syndrome. Considered a neurological, sleep, or movement disorder, RLS affects up to 1 in 10 people in the U.S. For those coping with a more severe form of RLS, countless sleepless nights--during which they may toss and turn constantly, or get up and pace the floor--can shatter quality of life.

A new database study of Veterans published in the Journal of Sleep Research finds not surprisingly, that those with RLS are at higher risk for stroke, heart and kidney disease, and earlier death. Some studies in the past had suggested such links, but the new research provides the strongest evidence yet.

They found a fourfold higher incidence of stroke and heart disease in the RLS group, and a threefold higher incidence of kidney disease. The gap in all-cause mortality between the groups was smaller, but the Veterans with RLS were still 88 percent more likely to die during the follow-up period.

Importantly, the study doesn't show that RLS directly brings on any of the other conditions--only that there's an association. In fact, it could be that RLS may result, in part, from other underlying health conditions. There's also a genetic component: The condition, which can occur at any age, often runs in families and specific gene variants have been linked to it.