OBJECTIVES. Restless legs syndrome, a common neurologic sleep disorder, occurs in 5% to 10% of adults in the United States and Western Europe. Although ∼25% of adults with restless legs syndrome report onset of symptoms between the ages of 10 and 20 years, there is very little literature looking directly at the prevalence in children and adolescents. In this first population-based study to use specific pediatric diagnostic criteria, we examined the prevalence and impact of restless legs syndrome in 2 age groups: 8 to 11 and 12 to 17 years.

METHODS. Initially blinded to survey topic, families were recruited from a large, volunteer research panel in the United Kingdom and United States. Administration was via the Internet, and results were stratified by age and gender. National Institutes of Health pediatric restless legs syndrome diagnostic criteria (2003) were used, and questions were specifically constructed to exclude positional discomfort, leg cramps, arthralgias, and sore muscles being counted as restless legs syndrome.

RESULTS. Data were collected from 10523 families. Criteria for definite restless legs syndrome were met by 1.9% of 8- to 11-year-olds and 2.0% of 12- to 17-year-olds. Moderately or severely distressing restless legs syndrome symptoms were reported to occur ≥2 times per week in 0.5% and 1.0% of children, respectively. Convincing descriptions of restless legs syndrome symptoms were provided. No significant gender differences were found. At least 1 biological parent reported having restless legs syndrome symptoms in >70% of the families, with both parents affected in 16% of the families. Sleep disturbance was significantly more common in children and adolescents with restless legs syndrome than in controls (69.4% vs 39.6%), as was a history of “growing pains” (80.6% vs 63.2%). Various consequences were attributed to restless legs syndrome, including 49.5% endorsing a “negative effect on mood.” Data were also collected on comorbid conditions and restless legs diagnosis rates.

CONCLUSIONS. These population-based data suggest that restless legs syndrome is prevalent and troublesome in children and adolescents, occurring more commonly than epilepsy or diabetes.

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