Caucasians appear to be at a much higher risk of suffering from restless legs syndrome (RLS) than African Americans, according to the results of a study presented at CHEST 2009. Overall, non-African American study participants experienced RLS four times more often than African Americans. Additionally, two out of five Caucasian women were found to have RLS—the highest incidence among all groups in the study.

“There are significant ethnic differences in the prevalence of restless legs syndrome, but the exact causes of higher prevalence among Caucasians are unknown,” said Ammar Alkhazna, MD, University of Missouri, Kansas City. “This likely reflects a combination of factors, including a genetic predisposition to RLS, diet—including iron intake—medications, and possibly culture.”

Alkhazna and his team analyzed standardized interview responses from 190 patients seen at a primary care clinic. The patient population was composed of 103 African Americans (42% of whom were men) and 87 non-African Americans (mostly Caucasians), 40% of whom were men.

Overall prevalence of definite RLS was 23%. A diagnosis of RLS was definite in 12% of African American patients, while a diagnosis of RLS was definite in 36% of non-African Americans. In the African American group, the prevalence of RLS was equal for both men and women at 12%, while in the non-African American group, the prevalence of RLS was 29% among men and 40% among women.

“We believe our study results reflect at least our clinic’s patient population. Because our patient population is multiracial and quite diverse, we expect our results would be similar in other large, urban centers with similar pools of patients,” said Alkhanza. “However, as many diseases and medications can lead to the development of restless legs syndrome, there will likely be a difference between populations attending medical clinics as opposed to those who are well and healthy.”

Recommended Articles
Treating the Difficult RLS Patient, Sleep Review, October 2009
RLS Drug Trial Yields Promising Results