Recent studies have suggested that restless legs syndrome is associated with an increased prevalence of cardiovascular diseases mediated by sympathetic activation occurring during periodic limb movements. The aim of this study was to establish which factors affect the degree of sympathetic activation during the basal condition and during periodic limb movements that may contribute to increased vascular risk. Fifty untreated restless legs syndrome patients aged 62.6 ± 11.1 y, free of cardiovascular diseases, were examined. Heart rate variability was calculated during wakefulness and all sleep stages, during periods with and without periodic limb movements. Heart rate changes before and after periodic limb movement onset were analyzed to assess the arousal response to periodic limb movements. Both analyses took into account the effects of age, gender, periodic limb movement duration, periodic limb movement index, periodic limb movement interval and periodicity, and magnitude of muscular activity (electromyogram power). Compared to periods without periodic limb movements, a significant increase in sympathetic activity occurred in periods with periodic limb movements, independent of age, sex and periodic limb movement characteristics. Data obtained from the cardiac arousal response to periodic limb movements showed that electromyogram power is the factor affecting sympathetic tonus. These results suggest that other factors, such as electromyogram power and individual susceptibility, should be considered in the assessment of the vascular risk related to restless legs syndrome.
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