The analysis included more than 65,500 female nurses whose average age was 50. The women were asked if they had experienced RLS, and, if so, to describe the frequency of their symptoms. They were also asked about their blood pressure status.
After taking into account the impact of lifestyle factors that raise the risk for high blood pressure -- such as obesity, advanced age, and smoking -- having restless legs syndrome was associated with a 6% to 41% increase in the risk for hypertension.
About one in four (26%) women who had five to 14 episodes of RLS each month had high blood pressure, compared to 1 in 3 (33%) who had more than 15 episodes and one in five (21%) who did not have RLS symptoms.
The study was published today online and will appear in the November issue of the American Heart Association journal Hypertension.
Sleep Deprivation May Be Key
If future research confirms the association, Batool-Anwar says treating RLS could have a beneficial effect on blood pressure and heart disease risk.
In some cases RLS appears to be caused by low levels of iron and studies suggest that treatment with iron supplements can be beneficial.
But in most cases, there is no obvious cause for the movement disorder. Several medications are available to treat the symptoms of RLS.
Blood pressure specialist Domenic Sica, MD, says there is a growing body of research linking conditions that affect sleep quality like RLS with high blood pressure and heart disease.
Sica directs the Virginia Commonwealth University Blood Pressure Disorder’s Unit.
He tells WebMD that the evidence linking poor quality sleep with heart and blood vessel disease risk is compelling.
In an editorial published with the study, Sica and colleague David Leszczyszyn, MD, write that the impact of sleep deprivation on risk factors for heart attack and stroke is only now being recognized.
“In the foreseeable future, the hypertension specialist and, for that matter, any clinician actively treating hypertension will need to have more than a just passing knowledge of sleep patterns and sleep-related diseases to most effectively treat hypertension and accompanying cardiovascular [heart and blood vessel] diseases,” they write.