Restless legs syndrome (RLS) may place men at higher risk for erectile dysfunction (ED), new findings suggest.

Researchers led by Xiang Gao, MD, of the Channing Laboratory and Harvard Medical School in Boston, prospectively studied 10,394 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS). In 2002, RLS was found in 331 men. From 2005-2008, researchers identified 1,633 new cases of ED. During this period, ED developed in 23.4% of men who had RLS at baseline compared with 15.4% among those without RLS, Dr. Gao’s group reported online ahead of print in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Men with RLS had a 38% increased risk of ED compared with men without RLS, after adjusting for age, smoking status, and other potential confounders.

In addition, the risk of ED increased with a higher frequency of RLS symptoms. Compared with men who did not have RLS, those who experienced RLS 5-14 times per month had a 34% increased risk of ED, whereas men who had RLS 15 or more times per month had a 45% increased risk.

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The study showed that 9.8% of men with RLS at baseline rated their erectile function as “very poor” in 2008 compared with 5.8% of those without RLS.

The HPFS was established in 1986, when 51,529 male U.S. health professionals aged 40-75 years completed a mailed questionnaire asking about their medical history and lifestyle. Every two years, participants received follow-up questionnaires to obtain updated information on potential risk factors and to identify newly diagnosed diseases.