Objectives: To assess the frequency, impact, and medical response to the restless legs syndrome (RLS) in a large multi-national primary care population.
Method: Questionnaire surveys of matched patients and primary care physicians (PCPs) in five modern industrialized western countries.
Results: An RLS screening questionnaire was completed by 23,052 patients: 2223 (9.6%) reported weekly RLS symptoms; 1557 of these patients had medical follow-up questionnaires completed both by themselves and by their physician. An RLS sufferer subgroup (n=551) likely warranting treatment was defined as reporting at least twice weekly symptoms with appreciable negative impact on quality of life. A total of 88.4% of RLS sufferers reported at least one sleep-related symptom. Most reported impaired sleep consistent with a diagnosis of insomnia. Out of 551 sufferers, 357 (64.8%) reported consulting a physician about their RLS symptoms, but only 46 of these 357 (12.9%) reported having been given a diagnosis. PCPs reported that 209 (37.9%) RLS sufferers consulted them about RLS symptoms, but only 52 (24.9%) were given an RLS diagnosis. In most countries, sufferers, regardless of diagnosis, were prescribed therapies not known to be effective in RLS.
Conclusions: RLS significantly impairs patients' lives, often by severely disrupting sleep. The marked under-diagnosis and inappropriate treatment of RLS indicates that PCPs need better education about this condition. Recognizing how often disrupted sleep results from RLS should improve diagnosis.