Sex and the risk of restless legs syndrome in the general population

Arch Intern Med. 2004 Jan 26;164(2):196-202. doi: 10.1001/archinte.164.2.196.


Background: Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is characterized by the desire to move the limbs associated with paresthesias of the legs, a motor restlessness, an intensification of symptoms at rest with relief by activity, and a worsening of symptoms in the evening or at night. Population-based studies are rare, and risk factors in the general population are not known.

Methods: Cross-sectional survey with face-to-face interviews and physical examination among 4310 participants in the Study of Health in Pomerania in northeastern Germany. Participants were aged 20 to 79 years and were randomly selected from population registers. Restless legs syndrome was assessed with standardized, validated questions addressing the 4 minimal criteria for RLS as defined by the International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group.

Results: The overall prevalence of RLS was 10.6%, increasing with age, and women were twice as often affected as men. While nulliparous women had prevalences similar to those among men up to age 64 years, the risk of RLS increased gradually for women with 1 child (odds ratio, 1.98; 95% confidence interval, 1.25-3.13), 2 children (odds ratio, 3.04; 95% confidence interval, 2.11-4.40), and 3 or more children (odds ratio, 3.57; 95% confidence interval, 2.30-5.55). Subjects with RLS had significantly lower quality-of-life scores than those without the syndrome.

Conclusions: Restless legs syndrome is a common disease in the general population, affecting women more often than men. It is associated with reduced quality of life in cross-sectional analysis. Parity is a major factor in explaining the sex difference and may guide further clarification of the etiology of the disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Parity
  • Physical Examination
  • Prevalence
  • Quality of Life
  • Registries
  • Restless Legs Syndrome / epidemiology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects