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Restless Legs Syndrome Tied to Earlier Death Risk

Older men with condition have 39 percent increase in mortality, study suggests
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Almost 4 percent (690 men) of the study group was diagnosed with restless legs syndrome. Men with restless legs syndrome were more likely to take antidepressant drugs and have high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease or Parkinson's disease. Not surprisingly, men with restless legs syndrome had more frequent complaints of insomnia.

During the study follow-up, nearly 2,800 men died.

When the researchers compared those with restless legs syndrome to those without, they found that men who had the condition were 39 percent more likely to die during the study period than men without the condition. When they controlled for factors such as body mass, lifestyle factors, chronic conditions and sleep duration, the mortality risk for men with restless legs syndrome dropped to 30 percent.

After controlling the data for major chronic conditions, the researchers saw a linear relationship between the frequency of restless legs syndrome and the risk of death. The more frequent the symptoms, the higher the risk of death, Gao said.

Gao said the reason restless legs syndrome is associated with an increased risk of death isn't clear. He said it might have something to do with the sleep problems and lack of sleep quality in people with the condition. It could be related to cardiovascular risk factors, even though the researchers tried to control the data for those factors. What is clear, he said, is that more research is needed.

Gao and his team are studying a group of women with restless legs syndrome, but he said he doesn't know if the findings from the study of men will be similar in women.

Dr. Melissa Bernbaum, a neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, suspects the findings will be similar in women. "I don't see any reason why they wouldn't be," she said.

"I was surprised by these findings," Bernbaum added. "This is a pretty high increased risk."

"I think they did a good job of defining some of the reasons why this association exists, but what they don't mention is who was treated for restless legs and who wasn't," Bernbaum said. "If you could avoid the sleep disruption, would the mortality risk be the same?"

Both experts said the main message from the study is that anyone with symptoms of restless legs syndrome should see their doctor. If you have an iron deficiency, iron supplements can help. There are also other treatments available for people who don't have an iron deficiency.

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