Sleep Apnea, Restless Legs and Erectile Dysfunction

There are studies linking sleep apnea with restless leg syndrome (RLS) and sleep apnea with erectile dysfunction, but now there's a study linking restless leg syndrome with erectile dysfunction. Not too surprising, since sleep apnea seems to be the common denominator for almost every imaginable disease, known or unknown. You may think that this statement is over the top, but you'll have to admit that not breathing well during the day, and especially not breathing well at night while sleeping can potentially lead to or aggravate almost every disease known to man. 


In this particular study, researchers found that men with RLS  had significantly increased risk for having erectile dysfunction (ED) compared with men who did not have RLS. The lead researcher, Dr. Gao, commented that the findings indirectly support the role of dopamine as a common pathway, in light of another study of his in the past that showed an association between ED and Parkinson's disease. He also points out that these same people with ED were more overweight, more prone to depression and anxiety, and had a greater chance of having hypertension or a history of stroke (sound familiar?)


It sounds like dopamine deficiency is a popular explanation for a number of different conditions. For both PLS and Parkinson's, giving dopamine-like agents help with the respective symptoms. The problem is that it never cures the problem completely, with a number of serious side effects. 


This approach to medicine is the replenish what's missing method. If you're deficient in dopamine, replace it. If you're deficient in Vitamin C, B12, or thyroid hormone, replace it. The problem is that this approach works in some people, but not in everyone. Then the next step is to increase the dosage, and then even more people respond, but not everyone (with more side effects). Ultimately, you're not addressing what's causing the deficiency. 


If you have a sleep-breathing problem, it's been shown that you can easily clot in certain small and large vessels of your brain very easily. If you happen to have a clot in the dopamine area of your brain, or if the brain biochemistry changes as a result of hypoxia, then you'll get various symptoms. But I think even the neurologists will tell you that a lack of dopamine itself won't lead to Parkinsons; it's just one part of a much larger picture. Could it be that obstructive sleep apnea may be that bigger picture, since by definition, all modern humans are susceptible to sleep breathing problems to various degrees?


What's your opinion on this? Should we continue to treat every medical condition in isolation hoping to target that one missing protein or gene, or should we step back and try to connect the dots until we see the bigger picture? Please enter your comments in the box below.

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2 thoughts on “Sleep Apnea, Restless Legs and Erectile Dysfunction

  1. Spot on, Dr. Park.
    Screening for sleep-disordered breathing should be done at every routine physical  starting at birth. Since it is a progressive condition, screening should continue throughout adulthood.
    Anytime a health condition results in a visit to the doctor, the doctor should check the patient's records for a SDB screening and if a screening has not been done in the last 12 months, another screening should be performed.

  2. I believe it is connected, Dr park. Since I’ve been treated for sleep apnea I’ve been able to get off med indicated for rls and onto supplements that ease rls. I’m still getting apnea when I sleep on my back so I’m trying to fix that too. Rls is not fun but unlike my neurologist I believe it is connected to apnea