Restless legs syndrome (RLS) has been found to correlate to a number of other medical conditions, raising the possibility that the common neurological disorder may be a symptom of underlying disease.

Dr. Sanford H. Auerbach, a sleep expert at Boston Medical Center and author of a new editorial, said in a press release that a recent analysis suggested multiple disease associations with the RLS. "Patients with RLS had a higher mortality rate than similar men, and showed an especially strong tendency toward cardiovascular disease and hypertension," he explained.

The editorial, which is published in the journal Neurology, also suggests that men living with the condition are more likely to be diagnosed with lung disease, endocrine disease, immune system problems, as well as diseases of nutrition and metabolism. Taken together, these findings may come to recast RLS as a biomarker of more serious complications rather than a standalone condition. It follows that the disorder may be used to improve screening practices.

What is RLS?

Today, as many as one in 10 U.S. adults are thought to be affected by the disorder, with nearly five million reporting moderate to severe RLS. The condition, which is characterized by an urge to move one’s legs, typically interferes with a patient’s sleep cycle. As a result, sufferers may develop mood swings, depression, and difficulties concentrating on daily tasks. While RLS often gets worse over time, treatment is available in the form of lifestyle changes and medication.

Auerbach’s editorial is the latest in a long series of efforts to resolve the biological origin of RLS. Last year, a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University of Medicine published a paper linking the disorder to high levels of the brain chemical glutamine. According to lead author Dr. Richard P. Allen, this would explain why certain therapies fail to alleviate patients’ sleep problems.

"We may have solved the mystery of why getting rid of patients' urge to move their legs doesn't improve their sleep," he told reporters. “We may have been looking at the wrong thing all along.”

Still, while the nature of the disorder remains cloudy, therapy development keeps moving forward. Earlier this year, the drug pregabalin was shown to outperform current mainstay medication in a head-to-head comparison trial, HealthDay reported. Hopefully, these efforts will ultimately help reduce symptoms for people living with the debilitating and often frustrating condition.