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Men With Restless Leg Syndrome Have Shorter Lifespans

Update Date: Jun 12, 2013 04:36 PM EDT

Men who experience restless legs syndrome are 92 percent more likely to die an early death, a new study suggests.

Restless leg syndrome affects five to 10 percent of adults in the United States. It is a disorder characterized by an uncontrollable urge to move the legs and often causes leg sensations of burning, creeping and tugging, which are usually worse at night.

Researchers said the latest study, published in the journal Neurology, highlights the importance of recognizing this common but under-diagnosed disease.

The study involved 18,425 men with an average age of 67 who did not have diabetes, arthritis or kidney failure.  Researchers found that 3.7 percent of the men met the criteria from restless legs syndrome at the beginning of the study. Researchers then collected information about their health status every two years.  During the eight years of study follow-up, 2,765 of the participants diet.  Researchers found that of the people with RLS, 171, or 25 percent died during the study compared to 2,594, or 15 percent, of those who did not have RLS.

Researchers found that men with RLS had a nearly 40 percent-increased risk of death compared to men without RLS.  However, the increased risk of death rose to 93 percent after researchers excluded data from people with major chronic conditions like cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure.

 "We found that the increased risk was not associated with the usual known risk factors, such as older age, being overweight, lack of sleep, smoking, being physically inactive and having an unhealthy diet," study author Xiang Gao, MD, PhD, with Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School and the Channing division of network medicine, Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston, said in a statement.

"The increased mortality in RLS was more frequently associated with respiratory disease, endocrine disease, nutritional/metabolic disease and immunological disorders. Through research, we need to pinpoint why and how RLS leads to this possible higher risk of dying early," Gao added.

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