Restless Legs Syndrome Prevalent in Fibromyalgia

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide
  • A study in the October 15, 2010 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that there was a greater risk and higher prevalence of restless legs syndrome in adults with fibromyalgia than in healthy controls. 

    Study Methods and Results

    Researchers studied 172 people with fibromyalgia and 63 healthy controls.  The results showed that the participants with fibromyalgia were 11 times more likely than controls to have restless legs syndrome (RLS) – 33% of those with FM had RLS as opposed to only 3.1% of the controls.

    Study authors concluded that because there is a higher prevalence and odds of RLS in those with FM compared to controls, clinicians should routinely query FM patients regarding RLS symptoms because treatment of RLS can potentially improve sleep and quality of life in these patients.

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    My Comments...

    Since doctors often don't question FM patients to see if they have RLS, I think it's important to briefly review the symptoms and available treatments.

    RLS Symptoms – Restless legs syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by unpleasant sensations in the legs and an uncontrollable, and sometimes overwhelming, urge to move them for relief.  RLS patients describe the feeling as crawling, prickling, burning, itching, aching or tingling sensations in their legs and feet.  These feelings occur when the person is resting and inactive. They tend to be worse in the evening and at night and temporarily subside in the morning.

    Many RLS patients also have periodic limb movement disorder or PLMD, which causes repetitive jerking movements of the limbs, especially the legs. These movements occur every 20 to 40 seconds and cause repeated awakening and severely fragmented sleep.

    Treating RLS – Some things you can do that may help relieve some of the RLS symptoms include taking a hot bath or shower, walking or other exercise, massaging the legs, or using a heating pad or ice pack. 

    According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Considerable evidence suggests that RLS is related to a dysfunction in the brain’s basal ganglia circuits that use the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is needed to produce smooth, purposeful muscle activity and movement. Disruption of these pathways frequently results in involuntary movements. Individuals with Parkinson’s disease, another disorder of the basal ganglia’s dopamine pathways, often have RLS as well.”

    In fact, two medications used for Parkinson’s disease have received FDA approval for the treatment of RLS – pramipexole (Mirapex) and ropinirole (Requip).  Although these two medications can be very effective in managing RLS, for some people long-term use can actually lead to a worsening of symptoms.  Other medications that are sometimes prescribed off-label for RLS include benzodiazepines, anticonvulsants and opioids. 

    If you have the symptoms of RLS, tell your doctor about them at your next visit.  Treating the RLS can go a long way toward improving your sleep and possibly lessening some of your FM symptoms. 

  • For more information about RLS, see:

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    Restless Leg Syndrome Often Associated with Chronic Pain

    Restless Leg Syndrome Basics

    Viola-Saltzman M, et al. High prevalence of restless legs syndrome among patients with fibromyalgia: a controlled cross-sectional study. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 2010; 6 (5): 423-427

    Restless Legs Syndrome Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. September 2010.


Published On: October 30, 2010