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Study Suggests Link Between Obesity and Restless Leg Syndrome

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Tuesday, April 07, 2009 12:50 PM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: Restless Leg Syndrome, FDA and Prescription Drugs, Obesity, Parkinson’s Disease, Movement Disorders


IMAGE SOURCE: iStockPhoto / woman sleeping / Craetive

A new study in the journal Neurology, suggests a link between being obese and restless leg syndrome (RLS), but more research is needed to confirm the association, experts say.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School studied 65,554 women and 23,119 men that took part in either the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study or the Nurses' Health Study II.

Obese participants -- those with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more -- were 42% more likely to have the disorder than those who were normal weight.

In particular, abdominal obesity was linked to RLS risk. Participants with the largest waistlines had a 60 percent greater risk.

RLS is a neurological disorder that causes unpleasant sensations in the legs and an uncontrollable urge to move them for relief. Individuals affected by the disorder describe the sensations as tugging, burning or insects crawling inside the legs. The sensations range from irritating to very painful and can have a substantial impact on sleep, daily activities and quality of life, researchers say.

The cause of RLS is unknown, but researchers suspect a dopamine imbalance may be to blame. Dopamine is a substance that helps relay messages from the brain to the muscles, thus facilitating movements. Medications that increase dopamine activity are often used to treat the disorder.

Past research has indicated that obese adults tend to have lower dopamine levels in the brain compared to slimmer individuals, but the correlation between obesity and RLS has been unclear.

“The study may be yet another reason to watch your weight,” said Dr. Carlos Singer, director of Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders at University of Miami School of Medicine.

But, Singer cautions the link between RLS and obesity remains unclear. It may be that the two conditions are linked by another, yet unknown, factor. Still, he adds, it may be best to try and lose some weight in an effort to stave off RLS. We already have “several good and healthy reasons not to be overweight.”

The findings may also lend insight into the origins of RLS, said Singer. The link between RLS and an imbalance in dopamine is interesting, he added, because dopamine is also an indication of Parkinson’s disease, another movement disorder. #

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