Restless leg syndrome and migraine

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) has been reported to be more common in patients with migraines. I wrote about this association in a previous post about 4 years ago. Another study, just published in The Journal of Headache and Pain confirms this association.

RLS is a common condition that often goes undiagnosed. This is in part due to the fact that RLS begins in childhood and it often runs in the family, so it is not perceived as an illness.

The new study involved 505 participants receiving outpatient headache treatment. The researchers collected information on experiences of migraine, RLS, sleep quality, anxiety, depression, and demographics. Participants were divided into low-frequency (1–8/month), high-frequency (9–14/month), and chronic (>15/month) headache groups.

Analysis revealed that with an increase in migraine frequency the occurrence of RLS also increased, particularly in those who had migraines with auras. Anxiety and sleep disturbance was also associated with RLS.

Sometimes the diagnosis of RLS is very easy to make – a person who constantly shakes his or her foot, usually has it. However, in some people the excessive leg or body movements occur only in sleep, so the diagnosis is less obvious to the doctor, but not to the bed partner who is constantly kicked and woken up by these movements. One of my patients could not sleep in the same bed with his wife, because he would move and kick her all night long. After he started taking ropinirole, one of the medications for RLS, he reported that he was able to sleep in the same bed with his wife for the first time in 20 years. If the diagnosis is in doubt, an overnight sleep study can confirm the diagnosis.

Unfortunately the person with RLS suffers much more than the bed partner. Moving all night means not getting good quality sleep and being tired all day. Treating RLS leads not only to improved sleep, but also to an overall improvement in the quality of life.

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