Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is defined as the spontaneous movement of the limbs (mainly legs) associated with unpleasant, sometimes painful sensation which is relieved by moving the affected limb. Prevalence of RLS among people on dialysis has been estimated between 6.6% and 80%. RLS symptoms contribute to impaired quality of life and people with RLS are shown to have increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.Various pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions have been used to treat primary RLS. However, the evidence for use of these interventions in people with chronic kidney disease (CKD) is not well established. The agents used in the treatment of primary RLS may be limited by the side effects in people with CKD due to increased comorbidity and altered drug pharmacokinetics.
The aim of this review was to critically look at the benefits, efficacy and safety of various treatment options used in the treatment of RLS in people with CKD and those undergoing renal replacement therapy (RRT). We aimed to define different group characteristics based on CKD stage to assess the applicability of a particular intervention to an individual patient.
We searched the Cochrane Kidney and Transplant Specialised Register to 12 January 2016 through contact with the Information Specialist using search terms relevant to this review.
Randomised controlled trials (RCT) and quasi-RCTs that assessed the efficacy of an intervention for RLS in adults with CKD were eligible for inclusion. Studies investigating idiopathic RLS or RLS secondary to other causes were excluded.
Two authors independently assessed studies for eligibility and conducted risk of bias evaluation. Results were expressed as risk ratios (RR) and their 95% confidence intervals (CI) for dichotomous outcomes, and mean difference (MD) and 95% CI for continuous outcomes.
We included nine studies enrolling 220 dialysis participants. Seven studies were deemed to have moderate to high risk of bias. All studies were small in size and had a short follow-up period (two to six months). Studies evaluated the effects of six different interventions against placebo or standard treatment. The interventions studied included aerobic resistance exercise, gabapentin, ropinirole, levodopa, iron dextran, and vitamins C and E (individually and in combination).Aerobic resistance exercise showed a significant reduction in severity of RLS compared to no exercise (2 studies, 48 participants: MD -7.56, 95% CI -14.20 to -0.93; I(2) = 65%), and when compared to exercise with no resistance (1 study, 24 participants: MD -11.10, 95% CI -17.11 to -5.09), however there was no significant reduction when compared to ropinirole (1 study, 22 participants): MD -0.55, 95% CI -6.41 to 5.31). There were no significant differences between aerobic resistance exercise and either no exercise or ropinirole in the physical or mental component summary scores (using the SF-36 form). Improvement in sleep quality varied. There was no significant difference in subjective sleep quality between exercise and no exercise; however one study reported a significant improvement with ropinirole compared to resistance exercise (MD 3.71, 95% CI 0.89 to 6.53). Using the Epworth Sleepiness Scale there were no significant differences between resistance exercise and no exercise, ropinirole, or exercise with no resistance. Two studies reported there were no adverse events and one study did not mention if there were any adverse events. In one study, one patient in each group dropped out but the reason for dropout was not reported. Two studies reported no adverse events and one study did not report adverse events.Gabapentin was associated with reduced RLS severity when compared to placebo or levodopa, and there was a significant improvement in sleep quality, latency and disturbance reported in one study when compared to levodopa. Three patients dropped out due to lethargy (2 patients), and drowsiness, syncope and fatigue (1 patient).Because of a short duration of action, rebound and augmentation were noted with levodopa treatment even though it conferred some benefit in reducing the symptoms of RLS. Reported adverse events were severe vomiting, agitation after caffeine intake, headaches, dry mouth, and gastrointestinal symptoms.One study (25 participants) reported iron dextran reduced the severity of RLS at weeks one and two, but not at week four. Vitamins C, E and C plus E (1 study, 60 participants) helped the symptoms of RLS with minimal side effects (nausea and dyspepsia) but more evidence is needed before any conclusions can be drawn.
Given the small size of the studies and short follow-up, it can only be concluded that pharmacological interventions and intra-dialytic exercise programs have uncertain effects on RLS in haemodialysis patients. There have been no studies performed in non-dialysis CKD, peritoneal dialysis patients, or kidney transplant recipients. Further studies are warranted before any conclusions can be drawn. Aerobic resistance exercise and ropinirole may be suitable interventions for further evaluation.