On Restless Leg Syndrome (Series: Pt .2)

Gary Polk, M.D.

Gary Polk, M.D.

The Role of Genes, Family History and Gender

RLS symptoms are not rare; it is one of the most common movement disorders. Some authors feel that after obstructive sleep apnea, RLS may be the most significant sleep disorder (4). In one circadian study as many as 15% of those surveyed had noted “restlessness of the legs”.

One interesting finding of the survey was that French Canadians had a higher frequency of symptoms compared to Canadians of English descent, indicating a potential genetic role in RLS. Large numbers of patience with RLS symptoms have a positive family history of RLS as well.

Although no specific gene abnormality has been found as a cause of RLS, patients with familial RLS (as compared to sporadic RLS) have an earlier onset and severity of symptoms. Overall it is estimated that the prevalence of RLS is 5-10% of the population. Additionally, there does appear to be an increased frequency in women compared to men by a 2 to 1 margin.

Impact On Quality of Life

RLS can have a significant negative impact on the quality of life. Quality of life surveys often show a decreasein vitality, physical functioning and general health in RLS sufferers compared to the general population. Other quality of life parameters negatively affected include social functioning and mental health. The disturbances caused by RLS were similar to other chronic medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and osteoarthritis.

Poor Sleep

RLS sufferers often complain of poor or restless sleep. Many patients have marked difficult falling asleep at night due to leg discomoft. They also appear to have an increased frequency of awakenings during the night. Patients with RLS tend to spend more time awake during the night than the general population. Also about 80% of RLS patients have associated stereotypical leg movements, known as periodic limb movements of sleep that can disturb their sleep or the sleep of their bed partners.

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