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People with MS Are More Likely to Have Restless Legs Syndrome, Says New Study

March 30, 2021

Nearly one quarter of people with MS involved in a new study experienced restless legs syndrome, compared with less than 4% in people without the disease. Restless legs syndrome causes an urgent need to move the legs due to discomfort. In this study, this sleep disorder affected sleep quality and was associated with greater disability, daytime sleepiness, and spinal disease activity on MRI scans. This study adds to previous studies suggesting that people with MS have a tendency for sleep disorders, including insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome, and lends evidence to the importance of addressing sleep disorders.
  • Quality sleep is crucial to maintaining overall health and wellness but sometimes it’s hard to get. Lack of restful sleep can cause daytime drowsiness and make some MS symptoms feel worse. Sleep disturbance is a general term that describes a wide range of sleep-related symptoms and disorders, including restless legs syndrome. Restless legs syndrome causes unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them.  Symptoms are often most severe at night when a person is sitting or lying in bed.
  • The team examined 117 people with MS and 118 people without the disease. Restless legs syndrome was present in 23.9% of participants with MS, compared with 3.4% of the control group.
  • People with MS and restless legs syndrome had a higher score on the EDSS (a scale of disability progression), were more likely to have spinal disease activity on MRI scans, and had significant increases in impaired sleep and daytime sleepiness, compared with people with MS who had no restless legs syndrome.  The use of disease-modifying therapies was not linked to the occurrence or severity of restless legs syndrome.
  • It is important that people discuss these symptoms with their neurologist, to determine if additional tests are needed, identify possible triggers, and to start appropriate treatment. People with MS can experience symptoms that can mimic restless legs syndrome, such as neuropathic pain or spasms, so evaluation requires a careful interview. Severe symptoms may require the help of a sleep specialist.
  • Learn more from the National Institutes of Health and the Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation
  • Get strategies to improve sleep
  • Restless Legs Syndrome in Multiple Sclerosis: risk factors and effect on sleep quality – a case-control study” by Drs. Tobias Monschein, Stefan Seidel, and colleagues (Medical University of Vienna) is published in MS and Related Disorders (March 20, 2021). 

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.


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