Epidemiology of restless legs symptoms in adults

Arch Intern Med. 2000 Jul 24;160(14):2137-41. doi: 10.1001/archinte.160.14.2137.


Background: Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a disorder characterized by sleep-disrupting unpleasant leg sensations, often accompanied by daytime behavioral problems. Treatment for this condition is available, but it is suspected that most instances of RLS remain undiagnosed. The goal of this investigation was to assess the prevalence and health status correlates of restless legs symptoms (hereinafter referred to as restless legs) in the general population.

Methods: A question reflecting the clinical features of RLS was added to the 1996 Kentucky Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey. Data on the frequency of experiencing restless legs, self-rated general and mental health status, demographics, and behavioral risk factors were collected by telephone interview from 1803 men and women, 18 years and older.

Results: Experiencing restless legs 5 or more nights per month was reported by 3% of participants aged 18 to 29 years, 10% of those aged 30 to 79 years, and 19% of those 80 years and older. The age-adjusted prevalence for Kentucky adults is 10.0%; prevalence did not vary significantly by sex. The adjusted odds ratios (95% confidence intervals) for restless legs and diminished general health and poor mental health status were 2.4 (1.4-4.0) and 3.1 (2.0-4.6), respectively. Restless legs were significantly associated with increased age and body mass index, lower income, smoking, lack of exercise, low alcohol consumption, and diabetes.

Conclusions: The prevalence of restless legs in the general adult population is high. Restless legs may be associated with decreased well-being, emphasizing the need for further research and greater medical recognition of this condition.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Body Mass Index
  • Diabetes Complications
  • Diabetes Mellitus / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Kentucky / epidemiology
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Restless Legs Syndrome / epidemiology*
  • Restless Legs Syndrome / etiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*