There are relatively few studies on the prevalence of restless legs syndrome (RLS) in the general population, even fewer that used diagnostic questions covering all 4 essential diagnostic criteria defining the RLS symptom complex, and none that have reported on the 2 RLS phenotypes for patients seen by family physicians.
To determine the prevalence of the symptom complex, diagnostic for RLS in a primary care patient population, a prospective population-based single-center study was performed. Every adult patient presenting for care in a small rural primary care practice with mostly white patients was surveyed for a 1-year period using a validated RLS diagnostic questionnaire.
A total of 2099 patients completed the questionnaire. Analysis revealed that 24.0% of these patients were positive for all 4 of the essential symptoms used to make the diagnosis of RLS and 15.3% reported these symptoms at least weekly. In addition, the RLS symptom complex was reported significantly more often by women than men and, as a whole, patients reporting the RLS symptoms were significantly older than patients without symptoms. The prevalence of symptoms increased with age until about 60 years and then showed a steady decrease thereafter. Further, early-onset RLS was significantly more common in women than men.
A high prevalence of RLS symptoms was observed in this primary care population. This finding supports the need for heightened awareness in both the medical community and general population regarding this disorder, which can often be effectively treated within the primary care practice.