Physician-diagnosed restless legs syndrome in a large sample of primary medical care patients in western Europe: Prevalence and characteristics

Richard P. Allen, Paul Stillman, Andrew J. Myers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

138 Scopus citations


Background: Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a medical condition with established neuropathology and genetic associations. Significant questions have, however, recently been raised about its true prevalence, medical significance and the degree to which it is under or over-diagnosed. This study therefore aimed to determine its prevalence, morbidity and adequacy of diagnosis based on physician evaluations of their own patients in primary care practice. Methods: Screening questionnaires were completed by adult patients attending 62 primary care practices across six western European countries within a one-week period. Patients screening positive for significant RLS symptoms were clinically evaluated for RLS by their physician. Physicians also classified the degree RLS affected the patient's health and well-being. Patients independently completed the SF-36 Quality of Life and Medical Outcomes Study (MOS) sleep questionnaires. Results: Ten thousand five hundred and sixty-four patients completed the screening questionnaire; 804 responded positively to RLS symptoms and 630 of these were subsequently evaluated by their physician. The physicians diagnosed RLS in 365 patients. Ninety-one percent of these had not been previously diagnosed with RLS. In this cohort of adult primary care patients (without or with prorating for missed interviews) the estimated prevalence for diagnosed RLS was 3.5% or 4.4% and for medically-significant RLS 2.1% or 2.7%. A moderate to high degree of RLS negative impact on health related strongly to a lower vitality subscale on the SF-36 and short sleep times (5.2-5.4 h) with more sleep disturbance on the MOS sleep scale. Conclusion: RLS in these western European countries is a common, clinically-significant medical condition that, despite all the publicity, remains largely undiagnosed. RLS evaluation is particularly recommended for patients complaining of insomnia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-37
Number of pages7
JournalSleep Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Clinical significance
  • Insomnia
  • Medical significance
  • Prevalence
  • Quality of life
  • RLS
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Sleep disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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