Newswise — MINNEAPOLIS – Researchers looked at whether race and ethnicity plays a role in instances of restless legs syndrome (RLS) in pregnant women in a new study published in the November 11, 2020, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological disorder that causes an uncontrollable urge to move the legs due to uncomfortable sensations.

“RLS occurs more often in pregnant women than in the general population, and it can be associated with some pregnancy complications and adverse birth outcomes,” said study author Xiang Gao, M.D., Ph.D.,  of The Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pa., and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “The percentage of pregnant women with RLS varies greatly by region and country, but few studies have looked at the risk of RLS by race or ethnicity in a multi-racial cohort.”

The study involved 2,704 healthy women recruited from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Fetal Growth Studies. The women were between 8 to 13 weeks’ pregnant without prior RLS or other major health problems prior to pregnancy. Participants included 709 white women, 765 Black women, 774 Hispanic women, and 456 Asian/Pacific Islander women.

At the beginning of the study, participants completed a questionnaire on social demographic, clinical and reproductive factors including those that could affect their risk of developing restless legs syndrome, such as age, body weight, race/ethnicity, and number of prior pregnancies. Participants were asked about any current RLS symptoms at the beginning of the study and then again five times throughout their pregnancy. RLS symptoms included the urge to move the legs accompanied by unpleasant sensations; urge to move or unpleasant sensation relieved by movements; symptoms that appear worse at rest and are partially relieved by activity; symptoms that are worse in the evening and during the night.

Of the participants, 490 women—or 18%—experienced RLS symptoms during their pregnancy. The breakdown by race/ethnicity was 20% for white women, 15% for Black women, 17% for Hispanic women, and 21% for Asian women.

“While we found that the incidence of RLS in pregnancy was much higher than in the general population and did, indeed, differ by race and ethnicity, when researchers adjusted for all of the variables such as age, nutritional factors, and number of pregnancies, we saw little difference in risk of RLS in pregnancy between the different groups,” said Gao. “This data suggests that the disparity is likely not related to race and ethnicity.”

A limitation of the study was that participants were overall healthier than the general population, having entered the study with no major chronic diseases, so the results may not apply to everyone.

The study was supported by the Division of Intramural Population Health Research, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health. 

Learn more about restless legs syndrome at BrainandLife.org, home of the American Academy of Neurology’s free patient and caregiver magazine focused on the intersection of neurologic disease and brain health. Follow Brain & Life® on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

When posting to social media channels about this research, we encourage you to use the hashtags #Neurology and #AANscience.

The American Academy of Neurology is the world’s largest association of neurologists and neuroscience professionals, with over 36,000 members. The AAN is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, concussion, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.

For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit AAN.com or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.