Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Font Size

Belly Fat May Raise Restless Legs Risk

New Study Explores Restless Legs Syndrome, Obesity Link
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

April 6, 2009 -- A new study suggests a link between belly fat and the movement disorder restless legs syndrome, but more research is needed to confirm the association, experts say.

Study participants with the biggest bellies were slightly more than one and a half times more likely to have restless legs syndrome than those with the smallest.

A similar association was seen in participants who were obese, regardless of their belly size, compared to those who were not obese.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder that affects as many as one in 10 American adults.

The causes are poorly understood. About 50% of people treated for RLS have a family history of the disorder, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), but there is also strong evidence that environmental influences contribute to RLS.

Belly Fat, RLS

In several previous studies, obesity was shown to increase the risk for developing the neurological disorder, but none of the studies was designed for the purpose of examining this link, says Xiang Gao, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health.

“We designed our study to look specifically at obesity, as measured by body mass index (BMI), and waist circumference,” Gao tells WebMD.

The investigation included 65,554 women and 23,119 men participating in two ongoing, comprehensive health studies -- the Nurses Health Study II and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.

The participants were considered to have restless legs syndrome if they met four diagnostic criteria for the disorder recommended by an international study group and if they had symptoms five or more times a month.

A total of 6.4% of the women in the study and 4.1% of the men were considered to have RLS.

The study revealed that:

  • Obese participants -- those with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more -- were 42% more likely to have the disorder than those who were normal weight or underweight (BMI of less than 23).
  • The 20% of the participants with the largest waist circumferences were 1.6 times more likely to have RLS than the 20% with the smallest waists.
  • Being overweight or obese early in adulthood and weight gain from early adulthood to middle age was associated with a higher prevalence of restless legs syndrome.

Today on WebMD

nerve damage
Learn how this disease affects the nervous system.
senior woman with lost expression
Know the early warning signs.
woman in art gallery
Tips to stay smart, sharp, and focused.
medical marijuana plant
What is it used for?
senior man
boy hits soccer ball with head
red and white swirl
marijuana plant
brain illustration stroke
nerve damage
Alzheimers Overview
Graphic of number filled head and dna double helix