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Does Restless Legs Syndrome Really Shorten Life Span?

Max Macaluso, Ph.D.
June 17, 2013

It may surprise you, but restless legs syndrome (RLS) affects 7% to 10% of the U.S. population, with varying degrees of severity. In the most extreme cases of this neurological disorder, patients have the urge to move their legs in response to severe discomfort or pain, which often interferes with sleep and can also impact other daily activities.

Now, according to a recent article published in the journal Neurology, RLS may also increase the risk of death in men. The study, led by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, tracked 18,425 American men over an eight-year time span and found that patients with RLS had a 39% increased risk of death.

In many ways, these results raised more questions than they answered. The patients enrolled in the study were screened for conditions that could already predispose them to a higher risk of death, such as diabetes and kidney failure, but RLS was not actually determined as the cause of death. Instead, researchers just discovered a statistical link between men with the disorder and a higher risk of mortality that will need to be explored further with rigorous clinical studies.

Treatments for RLS
While a better understanding of RLS and its long-term impact on health are needed, there are FDA-approved drugs available to treat the symptoms of this disorder. GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) brought a RLS drug, Requip, to market eight years ago, and the drug was also approved for Parkinson's disease. Total sales of the medication have been falling in recent years due to generic competition and reached only 164 million pounds ($257.5 million) in