Many People With Fibromyalgia May Also Have Restless Legs Syndrome and Poor Sleep Quality, New Study Finds
Oct. 15, 2010 -- People who have fibromyalgia are much more likely to also have restless legs syndrome, according to a new study. Restless legs syndrome is a baffling disorder that causes uncomfortable sensations in the legs and/or the urge to move the legs.
The study, published in the Oct. 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, found that 33% of people with fibromyalgia also had restless legs syndrome, compared to 3.1% who did not have fibromyalgia.
The findings are important because sleep disruption caused by restless legs syndrome may exacerbate the symptoms of fibromyalgia, researchers say.
But the good news, they say, is that restless legs syndrome can be treated and may improve the quality of life of people who have fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia affects 2%-4% of the U.S. population and is more common in women, according to the American College of Rheumatology.
Sleep Disturbances Are Common in Fibromyalgia Patients
“Sleep disruption is common in fibromyalgia and often difficult to treat,” Nathaniel F. Watson, MD, one of the authors and an associate professor of neurology at the University of Washington in Seattle, says in a news release. “It is apparent from our study that a substantial portion of sleep disruption in fibromyalgia is due to restless legs syndrome.”
The study involved 172 people with fibromyalgia, 93% of whom were women. They were compared with 63 people who were free of pain and fatigue. Those in the control group were younger, with a mean age of 41, compared to 50 for those with fibromyalgia.
A measure of sleep quality showed that problems with sleeping were more severe among people with fibromyalgia and restless legs syndrome.
The researchers conclude that a substantial portion of sleep disturbance found in patients with fibromyalgia may be related to restless legs syndrome.
They suggest that doctors routinely ask fibromyalgia patients about the symptoms of restless legs syndrome, because treatment may improve their sleep and quality of life.
Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are all presumptive conditions for Gulf War veterans, meaning disability claims are, in theory, nearly “automatic”
Restless leg syndrome is a disorder in which there is an urge or need to move the legs to stop unpleasant sensations.
RLS leads to sensations in the lower legs that make you uncomfortable unless you move your legs. These sensations:
- Usually occur at night when you lie down, or sometimes during the day when you sit for long periods of time
- May be described as creeping, crawling, aching, pulling, searing, tingling, bubbling, or crawling
- May last for 1 hour or longer
- Sometimes also occur in the upper leg, feet, or arms
You will feel an irresistible urge to walk or move your legs, which almost always relieves the discomfort.
Most patients have rhythmic leg movements during sleep hours, called periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD).
All of these symptoms often disturb sleep. Symptoms can make it difficult to sit during air or car travel, or through classes or meetings.
Note: Symptoms may be worse during stress or emotional upset.
There is no known cure for restless leg syndrome, but there are treatments that can help improve symptoms.
Treatment is aimed at reducing stress and helping the muscles relax. The following techniques may help:
- Warm baths
- Gentle stretching exercises
Low doses of pramipexole or ropinirole (Requip) can be very effective at controlling symptoms in some people.
If your sleep is severely disrupted, your health care provider may prescribe medications such as Sinemet (an anti-Parkinson's medication), gabapentin and pregabalin, or tranquilizers such as clonazepam. However, these medications may cause daytime sleepiness.
Patients with iron deficiency will receive iron supplements.
Low doses of narcotics may sometimes relieve symptoms of restless leg syndrome.
Restless leg syndrome (RLS) occurs most often in middle-aged and older adults. Stress makes it worse. The cause is not known in most patients.
RLS may occur more often in patients with:
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Chronic kidney disease
- Parkinson's disease
- Iron deficiency
- Use of certain medications
A form of RLS may be passed down in families. This may be a factor when symptoms start at a younger age. The abnormal gene has not yet been identified.
Restless leg syndrome can result in a decreased quality of sleep (insomnia). This lack of sleep can lead to daytime sleepiness, anxiety or depression, and confusion or slowed thought processes.
There is no specific examination for restless leg syndrome. The health care provider will not usually find any abnormalities, unless you also have peripheral nerve disease. Blood tests (CBC and serum ferritin) may be done to rule out iron deficiency anemia, which in rare cases can occur with restless leg syndrome.
Examination and testing may be used to rule out other disorders with similar symptoms.
Restless leg syndrome is not dangerous or life-threatening, and it is not a sign of a serious disorder. However, it can be uncomfortable and disrupt your sleep.
Techniques to promote muscle relaxation and stress reduction may reduce the incidence of restless leg syndrome in people prone to the condition.
Insomnia may occur.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
- You have symptoms of restless leg syndrome
- Your sleep is disrupted