Restless legs syndrome linked to psychiatric conditions

October 31, 2005

Adults with restless legs syndrome (RLS), a common debilitating condition, may be affected physically, mentally, and socially by their disease. In a new study presented at CHEST 2005, the 71st annual international scientific assembly of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP), adults at risk for RLS were more likely than those without risk of RLS to report additional physical and psychiatric conditions, including depression and anxiety. Adults at risk for RLS also were more likely to be overweight, unemployed, daily smokers, and to have issues with work attendance and performance. "There is a strong association between physical and mental health problems and RLS," said study author Barbara A. Phillips, MD, FCCP, President of the National Sleep Foundation and Professor of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Lexington, KY. "It is possible that RLS causes mood disturbance. It is also possible the medications used to treat mood disturbance cause RLS. In addition, behaviors that are risk factors for RLS, such as smoking, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle, are more prevalent in those with psychiatric illnesses."

In its annual sleep poll, the National Sleep Foundation randomly surveyed 1,506 adults throughout the United States on many aspects of sleep, sleep disorders, and daily living. Individuals were believed to be at risk for RLS if they reported unpleasant feelings in the leg for at least a few nights a week and which were worse at night. Of the individuals polled, 9.7 percent, including 8 percent men and 11 percent women, reported having symptoms of RLS. Survey results indicated that adults from the US South and West were more likely to be at risk for RLS than those from the Northeast. Adults who were overweight, unemployed, or smoked daily also were more likely to be at risk for RLS, as were those with hypertension, arthritis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, depression, anxiety, and diabetes. Adults at risk for RLS also appeared to be more at risk for sleep apnea and insomnia and were more likely to report taking longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep, driving drowsy, and having daytime fatigue. Regarding work and social issues, adults at risk for RLS were more likely to report making errors at work, being late for work, and missing work and social events due to sleepiness. "RLS can interfere with the ability to go to sleep, to stay asleep, to sit quietly in a movie or on an airplane, to undergo dialysis, or any activity that requires immobility," added Dr. Phillips. "Diagnosing and treating RLS is important because it improves quality of life." To cope with RLS, researchers suggest losing weight, quitting smoking, avoiding taking medications that are not necessary, reducing or eliminating caffeine and alcohol, exercising in moderation, and seeing a primary care provider to assess the possibility of underlying, treatable causes of RLS.

"Restless legs syndrome can have a significant impact on a person's quality of life, with the negative effects carrying over into everyday personal and work situations," said W. Michael Alberts, MD, FCCP, President of the American College of Chest Physicians. "It is important for health-care providers to find the primary cause of RLS in order to proceed with the most effective treatment."
CHEST 2005 is the 71st annual international scientific assembly of the American College of Chest Physicians, held October 29 through November 3 in Montréal, Québec, Canada. ACCP represents 16,500 members who provide clinical respiratory, critical care, sleep, and cardiothoracic patient care in the United States and throughout the world. The ACCP's mission is to promote the prevention and treatment of diseases of the chest through leadership, education, research, and communication. For more information about the ACCP, please visit the ACCP Web site at

American College of Chest Physicians

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