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Is There a Link Between Obesity and RLS?


Updated March 21, 2013

Question: Is There a Link Between Obesity and RLS?

It may seem odd, but can simply being overweight increase the risk of restless legs syndrome (RLS)? Is there a link between obesity and RLS? As a matter of fact, in an April 2009 issue of Neurology, researchers report that being overweight or obese may indeed actually increase the risk of developing restless legs syndrome (RLS).

RLS is a common movement disorder that often affects a person as they rest or are falling asleep. It involves an uncomfortable feeling in the legs, like bugs crawling, with an irresistible urge to move the legs in an attempt to relieve this feeling. It may affect 5% to 20% of adults and leads to a significantly reduced quality of life.

Previous research suggests that a decreased function of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, may be responsible for the disease. As obese people likewise are noted to have decreased dopamine receptor availability in the brain, it is proposed that they could be at increased risk of RLS.

Using subjects from two large studies, the Health Professional Follow-up Study and the Nurses’ Health Study II, researchers have examined the relationship between being overweight and the risk of RLS. It was found that 6.4% of women and 4.1% of men had RLS, and the prevalence increased progressively with increasing body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference. A similar association between obesity in early adulthood and RLS prevalence in mid-life (age 40) or later suggests it may be an early risk factor for the disease.

These findings may represent additional data suggesting the importance of maintaining a normal weight and sleeping well as it can have far-reaching and unexpected impacts on our health.


Gao, X. et al. "Obesity and restless legs syndrome in men and women." Neurology. April 7, 2009. 72:14, 1255-1261.

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