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New Insights on ‘Restless Legs’ Syndrome

Restless Legs Syndrome Tied to Triple the Risk of Suicide, Self-Harm

A new study has found that restless legs syndrome is associated with a nearly tripled risk of suicide and self-harm.

Researchers at Penn State found that people with restless legs syndrome (RLS) had a 2.7-fold higher risk of suicide or self-harm, even when the researchers controlled for other conditions such as depression, insomnia, diabetes, and more.

“Our study suggests that restless legs syndrome isn’t just connected to physical conditions, but to mental health, as well,” said Dr. Xiang Gao, associate professor of nutritional sciences and director of the Nutritional Epidemiology Lab at Penn State.

“And, with RLS being under-diagnosed and suicide rates rising, this connection is going to be more and more important. Clinicians may want to be careful when they’re screening patients both for RLS and suicide risk.”

According to the researchers, RLS affects approximately 5 percent of the U.S. population, causing an uncomfortable feeling in a person’s legs, resulting in the urge to move them, often during the night. While the exact cause of RLS is unknown, previous research has found an association between RLS and iron deficiency, as well as low levels of dopamine in the brain.

“I’ve wanted to explore a potential connection between RLS and suicide for more than 10 years, but because both RLS and suicide rates are low from a data perspective, it wasn’t possible,” Gao said. “But, when I moved here to Penn State, I gained access to a data set with more than 200 million people, so it gave us power to finally test this hypothesis.”

The researchers used data from the Truven Health MarketScan national claims from 2006 to 2014, including 24,179 people who had been diagnosed with RLS and 145,194 people who did not have RLS. All participants were free of suicide and self-harm at the baseline of the study, the researchers report.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that people who had restless leg syndrome had a 270 percent higher chance of suicide or self-harm than people who did not. The risk did not decrease even when the researchers controlled for such factors as depression, sleep disorders and common chronic diseases, according to the researchers.

“After controlling for these factors, we still didn’t see the association decrease, meaning RLS could still be an independent variable contributing to suicide and self-harm,” said Dr. Muzi Na, Broadhurst Career Development Professor for the Study of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at Penn State. “We still don’t know the exact reason, but our results can help shape future research to learn more about the mechanism.”

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open.

Source: Penn State

Restless Legs Syndrome Tied to Triple the Risk of Suicide, Self-Harm

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2019). Restless Legs Syndrome Tied to Triple the Risk of Suicide, Self-Harm. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2019/08/25/restless-legs-syndrome-tied-to-triple-the-risk-of-suicide-self-harm/149701.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 26 Aug 2019
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 26 Aug 2019
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