Restless Legs Syndrome May Raise BP

Women With Severe RLS Had Highest Blood Pressures

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 10, 2011 -- Millions of Americans with restless legs syndrome (RLS) may have an increased risk for high blood pressure, one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease.

In a new study, middle-aged women with the most frequent RLS episodes were 41% more likely to have high blood pressure than women without the disorder, and the prevalence of high blood pressure increased with RLS symptom frequency.

The findings strongly suggest that restless legs syndrome increases the risk for high blood pressure, but more research is needed to confirm the association, says researcher Salma Batool-Anwar, MD, MPH, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

“We cannot say from this study that restless legs syndrome causes blood pressure to rise, but we did see a significant relationship between the severity of (RLS) symptoms and prevalence of hypertension,” she tells WebMD.

RLS and the Heart, Studies Mixed

More than 5 million people in the United States have moderate to severe restless legs syndrome, and an even greater number have a milder form of the disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Sufferers report throbbing, pulling, and other unpleasant sensations in the legs when sitting or lying down. This often leads to the overwhelming urge to move the legs to get the symptoms to go away, hence the name “restless legs syndrome.”

Women are twice as likely as men to have RLS, and although symptoms can occur at any age, the disorder is most common in middle-aged people and the elderly.

The condition is often associated with poor quality sleep, which can lead to daytime fatigue, depression, and other health problems associated with lack of sleep.

Although some studies have found an increased risk for heart attack and stroke in patients with RLS, others have not shown the association.

Four out of five RLS sufferers also experience a more common nighttime movement disorder known as periodic limb movement of sleep (PLMS), which has been linked to elevations in heart rate and blood pressure.

1 in 3 With Severe RLS Had High BP

In an effort to better understand the impact of RLS on blood pressure, Batool-Anwar and colleagues analyzed data from the Nurses Health Study II, one of the largest and longest women’s health studies ever conducted.