Review of the relationship of restless legs syndrome and periodic limb movements in sleep to hypertension, heart disease, and stroke

Sleep. 2009 May;32(5):589-97. doi: 10.1093/sleep/32.5.589.


Evidence is reviewed documenting an intimate relationship among restless legs syndrome (RLS) / periodic limb movements in sleep (PLMS) and hypertension and cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease. Sympathetic overactivity is associated with RLS/PLMS, as manifested by increased pulse rate and blood pressure coincident with PLMS. Causality is far from definitive. Mechanisms are explored as to how RLS/PLMS may lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke: (a) the sympathetic hyperactivity associated with RLS/PLMS may lead to daytime hypertension that in turn leads to heart disease and stroke; (b) in the absence of daytime hypertension, this sympathetic hyperactivity may predispose to heart disease and stroke either directly or indirectly via atherosclerotic plaque formation and rupture; and (c) comorbidities associated with RLS/PLMS, such as renal failure, diabetes, iron deficiency, and insomnia, may predispose to heart disease and stroke. One theoretical cause for sympathetic hyperactivity is insufficient All diencephalospinal dopaminergic neuron inhibition of sympathetic preganglionic neurons residing in the intermediolateral cell columns of the spinal cord. We cannot exclude the possibility that peripheral vascular, cardiovascular, and cerebrovascular disease may also contribute to RLS/PLMS, and mechanisms for these possibilities are also discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Atherosclerosis / physiopathology
  • Autonomic Fibers, Preganglionic / physiology
  • Comorbidity
  • Coronary Disease / etiology
  • Coronary Disease / physiopathology*
  • Heart Failure / etiology
  • Heart Failure / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / etiology
  • Hypertension / physiopathology*
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology
  • Nocturnal Myoclonus Syndrome / complications
  • Nocturnal Myoclonus Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Restless Legs Syndrome / complications
  • Restless Legs Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Spinal Cord / physiopathology
  • Stroke / etiology
  • Stroke / physiopathology*
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiopathology