Possible Health Problems Due To Restless Legs Syndrome

image representing restless legs syndromeDo your legs shake or twitch uncontrollably at night or even during the daytime? Perhaps you get a sensation of burning or a creepy feeling in your legs?

And do these annoying movements or feelings keep you awake or wake you up at night? If this sounds familiar then you may be suffering from restless legs syndrome.

In our main article on restless legs syndrome we covered the causes and possible remedies.

In this article I’ll cover some more recent research which suggests that restless legs syndrome may also have other health implications.

The research

The research reported in 2015 in the Journal of Sleep Research was based on a US database of 3 million veterans.

The team from two US Universities and the US Veterans organization selected 7,392 people split into two equal groups. One group included people suffering from RLS and the other group consisted of people without the problem.

They tried to make sure the groups were similar in terms of age, gender, weight and other health problems they might have, by using 20 different matching criteria. The average age of the participants was 59.

They then tracked the two groups over an 8 year period. They looked at death rates and how many people suffered from heart problems, a stroke or kidney problems.

The detailed results are shown in the table below. Overall they showed that people suffering from restless legs syndrome definitely had a higher probability of dying or suffering serious medical conditions over the group without RLS.

Health problem over 8 year periodGroup without RLS:
Number and % with problem
Group with RLS:
Number and % with problem
Death782(21%)853(23%)
Heart problems157(4%)425(12%)
Stroke104(3%)293(8%)
Kidney disease503(14%)787(21%)
(Note: Both groups had 3696 people in them)

Death

The report says that the group with restless legs syndrome had an 88% higher risk of death. But this must be taken in context, as it only increased the actual risk from 21% to 23% over the full 8 year period.

Cardiac problems

The difference here is more significant, as 4 times more people with RLS suffered heart related problems than the non-sufferers. This aligns with other studies on the impact of lack of sleep and increased risk of heart problems.

So perhaps the fact that RLS can often cause serious sleep loss or disturbance is a major factor here. You might be interested in reading this article about how much sleep we need.

Stroke

This suggests that people with RLS are also 4 times more likely to suffer from a stroke. As above, could the lack of sleep increase your blood pressure and risk of stroke? Equally the overall risk at between 3% and 8% is relatively low compared to other problems.

Chronic kidney disease

Here the difference was 3 times – still very significant. And the overall risk for RLS sufferers at 21% is quite high and may make people wish to investigate this further with their doctor.

Conclusion

As in many areas of sleep related research, the researchers do say that they didn’t identify if restless legs syndrome was the direct cause of the other health problems, or if it was a result of underlying health problems. And it could be that sleeping badly due to RLS is the real problem.

Reading articles about how sleep disorders and insufficient sleep can adversely affect your health can be very worrying. Frankly it can also seem slightly alarmist by the medical profession.

I also know from personal experience that worrying about your health can increase your stress levels leading to even worse sleep. A pretty vicious circle of worry and poor sleep which can be difficult to break.

But I guess the important point is that if you’re suffering from restless legs syndrome you shouldn’t automatically assume it’s harmless. And it’s probably wise to get yourself checked out with your doctor.

I suggest it’s certainly worth you trying anything you can to reduce the impact on your sleep length and quality. So for example, you might find it interesting to read about some newer treatment options for restless legs syndrome.

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