A new study has found that erectile dysfunction is more prevalent in older men with restless leg syndrome (RLS) and also that the severity of the problem increases in tandem with the frequency of restless leg symptoms.
The findings show that erectile dysfunction was 16 percent more likely in men with RLS symptoms that occur 5 - 14 times per month and 78 percent more likely in men whose RLS symptoms occur 15 or more times a month. Importantly, the associations were independent of age, body mass index, use of antidepressants, anxiety and other possible risk factors for RLS.
Study author, Xiang Gao, from Harvard Medical School, said the results suggest it is likely that the two disorders share common mechanisms. "The mechanisms underlying the association between RLS and erectile dysfunction could be caused by hypofunctioning of dopamine in the central nervous system, which is associated with both conditions."
Participants in the study were aged between 56 and 91, with an average age of 69. RLS was defined as having unpleasant leg sensations combined with restlessness and an urge to move; with symptoms appearing only at rest, improving with movement, worsening in the evening or at night compared with the morning, and occurring five or more times per month.
About four percent of participants had RLS and about 41 percent had erectile dysfunction. Men with RLS were older and were more likely to be Caucasian. The prevalence of erectile dysfunction was also found to increase with age.
The study suggests that the association between RLS and erectile dysfunction could be related in part to other sleep disorders that co-occur with RLS. For example, obstructive sleep apnea and sleep deprivation may decrease circulating testosterone levels. Gao said further studies are needed to explore the biological mechanisms underlying the association.
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Source: American Academy of Sleep Medicine