Nocturnal Leg Movements, Linked To Heart Problems

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In a recent study about sleep and chronic diseases, it has been observed that men who jerked and flexed their legs during sleep are more at risk for developing cardiovascular diseases. This is most noticeable among men who are at least 65 years old.

The study involved a one-night sleep assessment. More than two-thirds of the men showed involuntary movements which usually occur in the foot, ankle and hip joints. Most of them even woke up during the night due to these movements. These men were found to have a high risk of having a combination of heart and blood vessel conditions, including heart attack, stroke and blocked or ruptured arteries. Those men developed such conditions a few years after the researchers measured their night time leg movements. However, researchers said that it is not a proof that these overactive limbs are the exact cause of heart problems.

According to Dr. Brian Koo, lead author of the study from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, people have to keep their minds open for some other factors which could have affected their risks.

This condition is called the Restless Leg Movement, and it is different from that of Periodic Limb Movement. People with RLS suffer from an uncontrollable and unmanageable urge to move their legs during the day and even at night, to the extent of causing them insomnia. Although this condition is a subject of many information drive and disease awareness campaigns, and to some extent even disease mongering, Restless Leg Syndrome is not to be considered as a serious medical condition. Its symptoms and signs may go away with the help of relaxation, diet and exercise.

In terms of Periodic Limb Movement, Koo said that most people are not aware that they have it. Sleep tests are done to obtain a diagnosis of PLM. One sign noticeable among people with PLM is sleepiness during the day which occurs as a result of frequently waking up during the night. Koo and his group estimates that about five to eight percent of Americans suffer from this condition.

In the study, Koo and his colleagues carried out single night tests to about 3,000 men who are aged 65 and above. The researchers measured the frequency of these men having leg jerks and involuntary movements and how often they were interrupted from sleep due to quick and light arousal. The study found out that almost 70% had leg movements at least five times an hour. Also, 60% of them woke up unknowingly at least once an hour.

In the interim of about four to five years, five hundred of them had a new case of either heart disease, stroke or artery condition. The researchers added that limb movements are not directly linked to a single heart disease but collectively, the study suggests that men with frequent nocturnal leg movements are 25-30% at more risk than men who have no leg movements.

Lastly, Dr. Koo concluded that there are still a lot of things to be settled about the outcome of their study, but he also said that potentially, sleep in general is an aspect to look at in ascertaining cardiovascular health.




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