If You Notice This at Night, Your Heart Disease Risk Is Doubled


Heart disease is not a diagnosis anyone wants to receive. This deadly condition causes the most deaths every year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While you may not be able to instantly check your blood pressure and cholesterol—two of the biggest risk factors—there are other risk factors that are more readily apparent. Research has found that one nightly occurrence could mean that your chances of developing heart disease are doubled. Read on to find out what you should be on the lookout for.

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If you notice an urge to move your legs at night, you might have restless leg syndrome.

If you find that you have an uncontrollable urge to move your legs around when you're lying down at night, you might have restless leg syndrome (RLS). According to the Mayo Clinic, the urge to move your legs typically occurs because of an uncomfortable sensation that is temporarily eased by moving your legs. The symptoms of RLS tend to worsen in the evening and occur mainly at night.

"People typically describe RLS symptoms as abnormal, unpleasant sensations in their legs or feet. They usually happen on both sides of the body. Less commonly, the sensations affect the arms," the Mayo Clinic explains. Some people describe the sensations as crawling, creeping, pulling, throbbing, aching, itching, or electric.

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Having RLS doubles your risk of heart disease.

A 2008 study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, found that restless leg syndrome is associated with negative cardiovascular outcomes. The researchers looked at more than 3,400 people enrolled in a Sleep Heart Health Study, where 7 percent of the women and 3 percent of the men had RLS. According to the study, those with RLS were more than twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease or coronary artery disease when compared to people who did not have RLS. The researchers also found that people with RLS were twice as likely to have a stroke than people without the condition.

If you have frequent and severe RLS symptoms, you're at highest risk for heart disease.

The researchers found that the risk of having heart disease was the greatest in RLS patients with the most frequent and severe symptoms. "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 co-author John W. Winkelman, MD, professor of psychiatry at 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."

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There are several factors associated with RLS that may explain the increased risk.

According to Winkelman, their study does not show that RLS in itself causes heart disease. However, he did say that there are several factors involved with RLS that could explain its link with an increased risk of heart disease.

"In particular, most people with RLS have as many as 200 to 300 periodic leg movements per night of sleep and these leg movements are associated with substantial acute increases in both blood pressure and heart rate, which may, over the long term, produce cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease," Winkelman explained.

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