Study: Smoking, lack of exercise contribute to restless legs syndrome
LEXINGTON, KY, July 27 - Researchers say restless legs syndrome is not a fad disease but a legitimate medical condition worthy of further examination. Nearly 2,000 Kentuckians responded recently to the largest known study into the peculiar medical conditi
Up to 10 percent of the adults surveyed suffer from the condition that interferes with sleep and can leave victims exhausted and struggling to concentrate at work, according to the study, which was headed by University of Kentucky sleep specialist Dr. Barbara Phillips. The findings were published this week in Archives of Internal Medicine.
The study has national implications, said Catherine Murray, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota-based Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation.
Weâ€™ve been told by the National Institutes of Health and other groups that we need to quantify the problem, Murray said. This study is one of the missing pieces of the puzzle.
Symptoms of the syndrome include burning, itching or tingling sensations in the legs or feet, the study said. The symptoms are worst at night, causing uncontrollable twitches, tics or kicks that can make sleeping difficult. The cause is unknown, but it is thought to stem from problems in the nervous system.
Some 35 percent of smokers in the study experienced symptoms frequently, while 24 percent of smokers rarely had the problem. Overall, people who smoked at least a pack a day were twice as likely as non-smokers to have the syndrome. Conversely, 38 percent of people who exercised regularly said they rarely had the sleep problem, and only 19 percent said it bothered them frequently.
Some 10 percent of people 30-79 and 19 percent of those older than 80 said they experienced symptoms of the condition. The overall age-adjusted prevalence was 10 percent, a rate that compares closely with restless legs studies in Canada and Germany. Previous studies suggest that women are more likely than men to have the syndrome.
Phillipsâ€™ study was conducted by telephone as a part of the 1996 Kentucky Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey.
Several prescription drugs can control symptoms, and they work in 80 percent to 90 percent of cases, Phillips said.