BACKGROUND: Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a frequent neurological disorder which predominantly affects women. Pregnancy is one of the most common conditions leading to secondary RLS. Severe symptoms of RLS may lead to complications of pregnancy and/or labor. The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence and characteristics of RLS in pregnant women.
METHODS: Women in the third trimester of gravidity filled out a simple questionnaire based on the official diagnostic criteria for RLS. Positive responders were interviewed in order to further characterize their symptoms. Afterwards information on changes in frequency and/or intensity of the symptoms after delivery was obtained by a telephone follow-up. All data were statistically analysed.
RESULTS: A total of 300 questionnaires were completed. All 94 RLS-positives met the four diagnostic criteria (31.33%). There was no difference in age, body mass index, or the number of previous pregnancies between RLS-positives and RLS-negatives, but weight gain during pregnancy was significantly higher in RLS-positives. More than 30% of positives had clinically significant symptoms, and 50% reported sleep disturbances. Almost 75% of the cases of RLS were secondary, i.e., symptoms occurred only during pregnancy (with a peak in the third trimester). More complications of pregnancy or labor occurred in women with RLS, but this was only marginally significant.
CONCLUSIONS: Our study confirmed the relatively high prevalence of RLS in pregnant women compared with the general population. Although almost three-fourths of the symptoms were only transient throughout pregnancy, the impact of the severe symptoms and sleep deprivation on the course of pregnancy and delivery was not negligible. Early detection and adequate treatment of severe RLS are necessary to prevent maternal discomfort and possible health risks. The questionnaire method is a simple, reliable diagnostic tool.