People with Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) are twice as likely to have a stroke or heart disease compared to people without it, says a new study.
The risk is greatest in those with the most frequent and severe symptoms.
The study, led by John W. Winkelman, MD, PhD, with Harvard Medical School in Boston, reviewed 3,433 people with an average age of 68 who were enrolled in the Sleep Heart Health Study.
Participants were diagnosed with RLS through the results of a detailed questionnaire. They were asked if they had been diagnosed with a variety of systemic diseases including cardiovascular disease and cerebrovascular disease.
Of the participants, nearly seven percent of women and three percent of men had RLS.
The analysis found that people with RLS were more than twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease or cerebrovascular disease.
The results remained the same after adjusting for age, sex, race, body mass index, diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood pressure medication, HDL/LDL cholesterol levels, and smoking.
"The association of RLS with heart disease and stroke was strongest in those people who had RLS symptoms at least 16 times per month. There was also an increased risk among people who said their RLS symptoms were severe compared to those with less bothersome symptoms," Winkelman said.
"In particular, most people with RLS have as many as 200 to 300 periodic leg movements per night of sleep and these leg movements are associated with substantial acute increases in both blood pressure and heart rate, which may, over the long term, produce cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease," he added.
The study is published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.