People with restless legs syndrome (RLS) may be at significantly higher risk of suicide and self-harm, warns a new study.
Using Big Data, the researchers found that people with restless legs syndrome had a 2.7- fold higher risk of suicide or self-harm, even if they didn’t suffer from conditions such as depression, insomnia, diabetes and so on.
Restless legs syndrome causes an uncomfortable feeling in a person’s legs resulting in the urge to move them, often during the night.
“Our study suggests that restless legs syndrome isn’t just connected to physical conditions, but to mental health, as well,” said Xiang Gao, Associate Professor at Penn State University in the US.
The study looked at health records of 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.
After analysing the data, the researchers found that people, who had restless leg syndrome, had a 270 per cent 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.
“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 Muzi Na from 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. (IANS)
Researchers have identified key networks within the brain which they say interact to increase the risk that an individual will think about – or attempt – suicide.
Combining the results from all of the brain imaging studies available, the researchers looked for evidence of structural, functional and molecular alterations in the brain that could increase the risk of suicide.
They identified two brain networks – and the connections between them – that appear to play an important role.
The first of these networks involves areas towards the front of the brain known as the medial and lateral ventral prefrontal cortex and their connections to other brain regions involved in emotion.
Alterations in this network may lead to excessive negative thoughts and difficulties regulating emotions, stimulating thoughts of suicide, according to the study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.
The second network involves regions known as the dorsal prefrontal cortex and inferior frontal gyrus system.
Alterations in this network may influence a suicide attempt, in part, due to its role in decision making, generating alternative solutions to problems and controlling behaviour, said the study.
The researchers suggest that if both networks are altered in terms of their structure, function or biochemistry, this might lead to situations where an individual thinks negatively about the future and is unable to control their thoughts, which might lead to situations where an individual is at higher risk of suicide.
“There are very vulnerable groups who are clearly not being served by research for a number of reasons, including the need to prioritise treatment, and reduce stigma,” said Anne-Laura van Harmelen, co-first author from the University of Cambridge.
“We urgently need to study these groups and find ways to help and support them,” van Harmelen said.
For the study, the international team of researchers carried out a review of two decades’ worth of scientific literature relating to brain imaging studies of suicidal thoughts and behaviour.
In total, they looked at 131 studies, which covered more than 12,000 individuals, looking at alterations in brain structure and function that might increase an individual’s suicide risk.
The researchers said that their review of existing literature revealed how little research has been done into one of the world’s major killers, particularly among the most vulnerable groups.
The facts in relation to suicide are stark: 800,000 people commit suicide every year, the equivalent of one every 40 seconds.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death globally among 15-29 year olds.
More adolescents commit suicide than dying from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease combined.
As many as one in three adolescents think about ending their lives and one in three of these will attempt suicide.
“Imagine having a disease that we knew killed almost a million people a year, a quarter of them before the age of thirty, and yet we knew nothing about why some individuals are more vulnerable to this disease,” van Harmelen said.