Men with restless legs syndrome may end up dying earlier than those without it.
According to research published in a June online issue of Neurology, men who experience restless legs syndrome had a nearly
40 percent increased risk of death compared with men without it.
Restless legs syndrome affects 5 percent to 10 percent of adults across the country, according to study author Dr. Xiang Gao, with the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School.
"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 news release. "The increased mortality in RLS was more frequently associated with respiratory disease, endocrine disease, nutritional and metabolic disease and immunological disorders. Through research, we need to pinpoint why and how RLS leads to this possible higher risk of dying early."
Dr. Chris Hammond, an Ogden neurologist who also specializes in sleep medicine, said that researchers involved in the study and others in the field do not understand why there may be an increase in mortality in the male population.
"However, there is research interest into the mechanisms of RLS, and one thought based on the dopamine connection is there could be an underlying neurodegenerative disorder at hand," he said.
Hammond said it's important to note that the study is an observational one, exclusively based on questionnaires, with many limitations.
Restless legs syndrome is a neurological condition in which your legs feel extremely uncomfortable, according to the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The disease is characterized by throbbing, pulling, creeping or other bothersome sensations in the legs.
Sometimes people have an uncontrollable, overwhelming urge to move their legs. The symptoms primarily occur at night when a person is trying to relax. Lying down often activates the symptoms. This causes a disruption in sleep, often leading to daytime drowsiness.
"Many express tightness and feel their legs are like a rubber band twisted so tight that it has to be released," Hammond said. "The hallmark of RLS that may distinguish this condition from others is that there is a release of these feelings when the limbs are moved. Walking or stretching at least gives a temporary sense of relief."
Hammond said RLS can be inherited, and a commonly associated medical condition is iron deficiency. Others associated conditions include vitamin or mineral deficiencies, sleep apnea, compressed nerves in the lower back, and disorders such as Parkinson's disease, lupus, celiac, narcolepsy and rheumatoid arthritis. Certain medications may worsen symptoms, he said.
Most research on the disease mechanism has focused on the dopamine and iron systems, based on the observation that iron and levodopa (a medication used to treat Parkinson's) can be used to treat RLS, Hammond said.
Conservative therapies include regular exercise, warm- and cold-water leg soaks, stretching and improving sleep hygiene overall.
"Don't panic. For men with RLS and now based on this study that their life will be shortened, please do not be alarmed," Hammond said.
"Further studies are required, but if anyone has RLS or symptoms of such, discuss potential causes with your doctor, especially investigation of certain conditions that we know can be associated with RLS and carry an increased risk of mortality."
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