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RLS prevalence

Clinical bottom line

Restless legs syndrome, whether using standard diagnosis or not, is relatively common, affecting 5-10% of adults in Western countries, with the best conservative estimate of about 6%. Prevalence is higher with older age, and probably slightly more in women and men. Japan has a much lower prevalence, perhaps 1% or less.


Reference

M Zucconi, L Ferini-Strambi. Epidemiology and clinical findings of restless legs syndrome. Sleep Medicine 2004 5: 293-299.

Searching

This review paper contained no specified search strategy. It did report on known studies of RLS prevalence conducted since 1994, including studies published up to 2002.

Results

Details of the studies are shown in Table 1, according to whether they used current diagnostic criteria for RLS or not. Most were in industrialised Western populations in North America or Europe, apart from two studies in Japan. All were in adults, but age ranges were very different, and there were also differences in size, from a few hundred to many thousands.

Table 1: Prevalence studies of RLS

Year
Study area
Population
Method
Age range
Number
Prevalence (%)
Non-standard diagnostic criteria
1945 Sweden Retired miners Interview
503
5
1967 Austria   Interview
>18
320
2.5
1991 USA Retired miners Questionnaire
29
1994 Canada   Questionnaire
>18
2019
10-15
1994 Holland Primary care Questionnaire
>50
1427
7.1
1997 USA   Tel interview
18-65
1205
10
2000 USA   Tel interview
>18
1803
10
2000 Japan    
>20
4612
1.5
2000 Switzerland Postal workers Questionnaire
>18
1473
4
2001 Chile   Interview
18-85
100
13
Standard diagnostic criteria
2000 Germany   Interview
>65
369
9.8
2001 Sweden Women Questionnaire
18-64
200
11.4
2001 Sweden Men Questionnaire
18-64
4000
5.8
2001 Japan   Interview
21-55
1157
0.6
2002 Europe   Tel interview
15-100
18980
5.5

Figure 1 shows the range of results in Western societies. Most used wide ranges for definitions of adult populations, and only two (in light red in the figure) used older age groups. There was no apparent link between prevalence and method of interview. Using current diagnostic criteria (symbols with thick outlines in the figure) in the two largest studies produced a prevalence of about 6%.

Figure 1: RLS prevalence in Western societies

Comment

The best conservative estimate is that restless legs syndrome might affect about 6% of adults in industrialised Western countries. Rates in Japan are lower, at about 1%.