If You Feel This Before Falling Asleep, Your Heart Disease Risk Is High


Whether it's for a prolonged period of time or just an off night, many of us have experienced insomnia of some kind, when you can't sleep no matter how hard you try. But for some people, this common condition comes with a physical manifestation known as "restless legs." It's easy to write the symptom off as a tiring irritation, but experts are advising that it's something you should be paying more attention—because restless legs may, in fact, be a red flag for heart disease.

"Anyone who has experienced restless legs syndrome (RLS) knows it's a strange condition. As soon as you lie down, the urge to move your legs begins. No matter how hard you try, you cannot stop thrashing around or get comfortable," writes interventional cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic. "Although a connection between this strange syndrome and heart disease sounds unlikely, it exists."

Read on to find out more about the connection between restless legs and heart disease, and for more indicators your cardiovascular health is at risk, check out If You Can't Do This in 90 Seconds, Your Heart Is in Danger, Study Says.

Restless leg syndrome is a common condition.

It's believed that up to 10 percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from RLS, according to research published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine. Typically it causes discomfort throughout the legs when people are falling asleep, compelling them to move their legs incessantly to try and relieve their aches and pains. Interestingly, these sensations generally seem not to occur during the day but only develop in periods of inactivity later at night, as Richard N. Fogoros, MD, explains for VeryWell Health. And for more signs of health issues that emerge when you're trying to sleep, know that If This Body Part Hurts You at Night, See Your Doctor.

There are many different ways restless leg syndrome manifests.

Restless leg syndrome seems to result in symptoms emanating from within the legs rather than on the surface, but those can range from a general restlessness or twitching feeling, to a sensation of burning, pulling, or strong tension, Fogoros says. Usually it hits the knees or the lower part of the legs. Patients tend to report that the pain does not materialize if they're mentally or emotionally engaged, for example by working on a crossword puzzle or talking with their partner. And for more heath advice sent right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

What causes restless leg syndrome is often a mystery.

In most cases, this is a mild condition, which occurs intermittently and where no underlying cause can be identified. In some cases, iron deficiency, kidney failure, pregnancy, spinal disease, and neurological disorders can be the root cause and medication related to these conditions can help. However, a particular area of interest to researchers is the link between restless legs and an increased risk of heart disease. And for more signs of trouble, beware that If You Feel This at Night, You Need to Get Your Liver Checked, Doctors Say.

There's a strong connection between restless legs and cardiac health.

A paper published in 2018 in the journal American Academy of Neurology found that women with restless leg syndrome had a higher cardiovascular disease mortality rate. A similar paper from five years earlier found that men suffering RLS were at higher risk of early death generally, and yet another report from 2008 found that people with RLS are twice as likely to have a stroke or heart disease compared to people without the condition.

"The association of RLS with heart disease and stroke was strongest in those people who had RLS symptoms at least 16 times per month," study author John W. Winkelman, MD, PhD, with Harvard Medical School, said in a statement. "There was also an increased risk among people who said their RLS symptoms were severe compared to those with less bothersome symptoms."

This could be because many people with restless leg syndrome also have a movement disorder called periodic limb movements of sleep (PLMS). Most people are unaware that they are suffering from PLMS as it involves them moving their legs once they've finally fallen asleep. However, research has shown that during these periods of movement, a patient's blood pressure can significantly rise, causing nocturnal hypertension, which over time can significantly contribute to cardiovascular disease.

So if you're one of those people regularly experiencing restless legs when you try to get to sleep, ask your doctor if you could be at risk of heart disease. And for more on your heart health, check out If You Have This Issue With Your Eyes, Your Heart Disease Risk Is High.