Restless Legs Syndrome is Common in Primary Care

Journal Watch. 2003;2(11) 

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a common and disruptive sleep disorder, but its prevalence in primary care is unknown. Sleep experts surveyed all 2099 adults (mean age, 46; 98% white) who attended a rural primary care practice in Idaho during 1 year; standardized RLS questionnaires were used to assess diagnostic and severity criteria.

Five hundred four subjects (24%) were positive for all 4 standard criteria:

  • urge to move the legs, usually accompanied by unpleasant sensations,

  • symptoms that were aggravated by rest,

  • symptoms that were relieved by walking,

  • symptoms that were worse at night.

Such people were somewhat older and more likely to be female than were people who did not meet all criteria. About half of the RLS subjects were affected several times weekly and found RLS symptoms to be distressing.

The prevalence of RLS in this population was substantially higher than that reported previously in the general population (9%-15%). RLS is amenable to treatment, and it can be a marker for, or can contribute to, other problems (such as depression or anxiety disorders) for which patients seek primary care.

-- Thomas L. Schwenk, MD

Nichols DA et al. Restless legs syndrome symptoms in primary care: A prevalence study. Arch Intern Med 2003 Oct 27; 163:2323-9.

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