Restless legs syndrome: Risk of suicide in RLS sufferers increased drastically

RLS increases suicide risk

If people suffer from the so-called restless legs syndrome (RLS), this leads to almost three times the risk of self-harm and suicide.

The Pennsylvania State University's latest investigation found that restless legs syndrome is associated with an almost three-fold increased risk of self-harm and suicide. The results of the study were published in the English-language journal "Neurology".

What is restless legs syndrome?

Restless legs syndrome is sometimes referred to as Willis ecboma disease. It is a neurological disorder that involves the urge to move and stretch physically to suppress strange and uncomfortable sensations in the body, the researchers report. The disease affects the legs particularly often, but can also affect other parts of the body such as the arms and head and can lead to different degrees of discomfort. Restless legs syndrome often interrupts sleep, as symptoms tend to worsen at night when people go to bed and start to relax. Sufferers often describe the condition as a creepy crawling sensation or as if there was carbonated water in the legs.

Linking RLS to mental health problems

Not surprisingly, such uncomfortable physical sensations can also affect mental health. In their study, the researchers found that people with RLS were 2.7 times more likely to injure themselves or even commit suicide than healthy people. For the study, the data from 24,179 people with RLS and 145,194 healthy people were analyzed. These were also checked for factors such as depression, sleep disorders and diabetes. It turned out that age and gender do not seem to influence the relationship between RLS and suicide risk. Even when these factors were taken into account, there was no decrease in association, suggesting that RLS is a possible stand-alone risk factor for suicide and self-harm, the researchers report. The exact reason is still unknown, but the results can serve as the basis for future research and help to learn more about the connection.

Restless legs syndrome is rare

RLS affects around five percent of the population. It is difficult to diagnose and occurs in both children and adults, with middle-aged people being the most affected. The exact cause of the disease is still unclear. There appears to be a genetic component, and the condition has been linked to iron deficiency, diabetes, certain medications, and pregnancy, among other things. RLS itself is rated as a risk factor for high blood pressure, heart attacks, depression and thoughts of suicide.

More research is needed

The study suggests that restless legs syndrome is not only related to physical complaints, but also to mental health, the researchers explain. Since RLS is often not diagnosed and the suicide rate continues to increase, it is becoming increasingly important to understand the connection. Physicians should also check people with RLS for an increased risk of suicide. Future studies can help to better understand the poorly researched condition of RLS. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Sheng Zhuang, Muzi Na, John W. Winkelman, Djibril Ba, Chun-Feng Liu, Guodong Liu, Xiang Gao: Association of Restless Legs Syndrome With Risk of Suicide and Self-harm, in Neurology (query: 28.08.2019), Neurology

Video: Restless Leg Syndrome And Heart Disease (July 2021).