Thursday, November 3, 2011

Restless Legs Syndrome and High Blood Pressure in Middle-Age Women

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder characterized by an urge to move the legs while resting in the evening. It gets more common with age. It can lead to insomnia and more recent studies are linking it to cardiovascular disease, as I have blogged about here and here.

Now there is a study in Hypertension: The Journal of the American Heart Association about RLS and high blood pressure (HTN) in middle aged women. Researchers conducted a cross-sectional study of 65,544 nurses aged 41-58 years old who reported RLS symptoms based on self-administered questionnaires. Women with diabetes and arthritis were excluded as these conditions can mimic RLS symptoms. Information about blood pressure values and HTN was collected via questionnaires. Adjustments were made for age, race, body mass index, physical activity, menopausal status, smoking, use of analgesics, and intake of alcohol, caffeine, folate, and iron. Compared to women without RLS symptoms, the odds were 1.2 times higher of having HTN if the women had RLS symptoms. And the more often the women had RLS symptoms, the higher the reported blood pressure values.

The results of this study are interesting, but caution is warranted. Since all of the data is from self-reported questionnaires, it can be difficult to make concrete conclusions. We don't know if the women really had RLS or one of the many mimics, since they were not examined by any physicians. Also, we don't know if the women had limb movements in sleep which could be more important for HTN than RLS by itself. Finally, we don't know if the women had sleep apnea, which would have required a sleep study. Sleep apnea is a strong risk factor for HTN and could contribute to the results seen because sleep apnea can bring on or worsen RLS. Bottom line: If you have RLS symptoms, please talk to your doctor or a sleep physician.

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