The People's Perspective on Medicine

Can Restless Leg Syndrome Drive People to Suicide?

It's time to take restless leg syndrome seriously. When people can't get relief, they may become anxious, depressed and desperate.
Close up Bare Feet of a Young Woman Lying Down on a Blue Bed Captured in High Angle View.

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) may not sound like a serious problem unless you have experienced it. People who suffer with it, however, often find it very hard to live with. As soon as they try to relax, their legs begin to itch, ache, throb or feel as though bugs were crawling on them. The feeling of pulling, tugging, burning or irritation inside the legs eases only when the sufferer moves the legs around. Some people get up and pace the floor, others climb stairs or jerk their legs in bed. One woman described a situation in which she ended up literally kicking her husband out of the bed. Because of her endless thrashing, he had to sleep in another room.

Sufferers may get very little sleep. This is not merely uncomfortable. For some people, these relentless symptoms may trigger depression and thoughts of suicide.

What Does Restless Leg Syndrome Feel Like?

Here are some ways readers have described their RLS experience:

“As I think back to The Wizard of Oz, when the house fell on the wicked witch, her legs curled up under her. That is the way I describe RLS. Just sort of a creepy feeling.”

Another person explained:

“My father and sister have RLS. It never occurred to me that I did too, since my leg discomfort occurred both day and night. Years ago, I happened on a product containing choline that relieves RLS symptoms for me. If I take it daily, I am able to sleep comfortably at night and do not have the daytime symptoms of aching, tingling, and needing to stretch or move my legs.”

This reader had more trouble finding a solution:

“I have had an extreme case of RLS for several years. I have tried increasing calcium, magnesium and vitamin D, leg and full-body massages, diet changes, exercising and increasing my water intake. Nothing helped.

“My symptoms increased after a hip replacement 10 years ago. The doctor prescribed Requip and then Mirapex. However, the side effects are difficult to adjust to and make normal life activities dangerous. Plus, they do not relieve my symptoms enough to sleep more than a few hours. Out of desperation, I recently tried CBD oils and medical marijuana. The CBD oil helped very little, but the marijuana worked amazingly well within a few minutes, and I slept soundly for the first time in years! I will definitely be searching for a holistic doctor to pursue a medical marijuana prescription.”

Medications for Restless Leg Syndrome:

Years ago, a woman wrote to us about a solution for RLS:

“My husband has suffered from RLS for as long as I have known him. Until several years ago we didn’t even know it had a legitimate name. We called it ‘leg-i-tis’!

“He tried everything he could think of-calcium, magnesium, quinine, etc. His doctor told him to march around the house until it stopped. (This was usually done in the middle of the night since that was when it occurred.) It would start right back up when he laid down to try to sleep.

“I was watching ‘Good Morning America’ a while ago and heard about RLS. The doctor said a medication called Mirapex works.

“My husband’s doctor prescribed it for him and it has been a miracle for us. I say us because his horrible condition kept us both from sleeping.”

Pramipexole (Mirapex) is a medicine used to treat Parkinson’s disease. The FDA has also approved it to treat restless leg syndrome. The agency has also approved another drug for Parkinson’s disease, ropinirole (Requip), for treating RLS. 

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In one study, a low dose (1.8 mg) of Requip reduced the average number of leg twitches in sufferers from 49 per hour to just 12. The placebo was no match for this drug.

Side Effects of Medications for RLS:

No single solution works for everyone with this neurological condition. While ropinirole (Requip) or pramipexole (Mirapex) can ease RLS for many people, others find the side effects are worse than the original disease.

The most common side effects of both Mirapex and Requip include nausea and dizziness. Daytime fatigue or sleepiness is also a risk and makes driving or operating machinery dangerous. Other serious side effects include lightheadedness upon sitting or standing up. This can lead to fainting. Hallucinations and bizarre behavior as well as compulsive behavior such as gambling, binge eating, compulsive shopping or sexual promiscuity can cause people a lot of distress.

We got this report of such a reaction:

“I was on ropinirole for many years to relieve my RLS. Then I began crazy, unexplained compulsive spending on large, unnecessary, and expensive items. Later I began compulsive gambling.

The Effects of Restless Leg Syndrome on Mental Health:

Needless to say, restless leg syndrome may take a heavy toll on victims’ sleep and emotional well-being. A recent study in JAMA Network Open (Aug. 23, 2019) found that people with RLS were substantially more likely to harm themselves or attempt suicide than those without it. 

Obviously, such a serious situation requires medical attention. Not everyone will be quite so desperate, however. We don’t want to downplay the gravity of RLS, but we do want to offer some other possible approaches.

Home remedies, while not scientific, do seem to help some people:

“Any time I take an antihistamine, my legs begin to jerk. The first time it happened, I had to get up out of bed and do jumping jacks, because it affected my arms as well. Now I avoid antihistamines, and I sleep with a bar of soap under the sheet near my legs.”

Another reader uses a dietary supplement:

“I too have suffered the overwhelming desire to move my legs again and again when sleeping. It’s worse when I’m tense or over tired. Trying to stay still just makes it worse. I find that a little melatonin helps. Now, I rarely need to use it.”

Other home remedies range from putting soap under the bottom sheet to swallowing a teaspoon of mustard when the feelings begin. You may find this post helpful.

Regardless of the treatment, the research demonstrates that everyone should take restless leg syndrome seriously.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Citations
  • Zhuang S et al, "Association of Restless Legs Syndrome with risk of suicide and self-harm." JAMA Network Open, Aug. 23, 2019. DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.9966
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I’ve had RLS for about 15 yrs. I tried Requip and had hallucinations so I tried every alternative/natural treatment I found. They worked for awhile and then stopped. Eventually nothing worked, and I was desperate so I went back to the doctors. My GP prescribed Sinemet; it helps with the creepy, crawly sensations. My neurologist prescribed a low dose of gabapentin; it helps with the movement. I also have gone to a applied kinesiologist who helped me with my diet, and we found eating nightshade plants increases my RLS. I now only eat them a few times a week or less. I also have a magnesium spray I rub on my legs and a CBD lotion I use when I feel them getting worse. And I take MSM sulfur powder. My RLS have become much more manageable and less of a disability. When the skin of my legs is cold that also starts the RLS so I wear pants a lot and warm sweats. Everyone is different and needs to find what helps and what triggers their symptoms.

I have just recently been diagnosed with MS. I went for my first infusion of Ocrevus yesterday. I was given some premeds, among them an antihistamine. I immediately began to suffer jerking of both arms and legs. I asked the tech if they had any bar soap. They only had liquid soap. I then asked if they had any mustard. She found 2 tubes of fast food-type mustard from somewhere (maybe someone’s lunch?!) I took the first one, and the jerking began to decrease. I took the second one, and all the jerking stopped. As soon as the jerking stopped, the Benadryl put me to sleep. I ended up sleeping almost through the entire infusion. Next time I will take my bar soap and a couple of tubes of mustard just in case! I never had that reaction from an antihistamine before.

I had RLS for years. I had been taking magnesium for some years, too. But it was not until I started drinking rooibos tea after dinner that my RLS went away. I’ve heard that rooibos tea helps the body absorb magnesium.

I had restless leg for more than 30 years. On vacation two years ago I was so miserable I decided to take a hot bath. However, dripping swimsuits were too much trouble to deal with. I picked up a wet bar of soap from vanity and ran it over my legs. Immediately they stopped twitching inside. I stood there worried about getting into an upscale hotel bed but decided soap would come out in the wash. I brought the leftover bar of soap home and continued to use it on wet hands and rubbed soapy palms over my legs.

I did not bring box telling name of soap and called hotel chain. I described unusual shape. That was a brand used in their highest price hotel. It was a fluke they were using it.

I have been able to order these samples from the internet. I always carry one when I travel. The restless leg misery is less frequent but I have found a cure for when it strikes.

I have had RLS for decades. I finally did research on it and found that being anemic can be a cause. I talked with my doctor and he also researched it and checked my Ferritin level with a blood test. I had extremely low Ferritin. He advised taking iron, which I have done for around 25 years. However, after menopause I no longer need the iron and the RLS has not returned. Caution: iron can be toxic so do not start taking iron unless you get a blood test and are advised by your doctor to take supplements.

I have it severely on my entire right side. I’ve been suffering from this for 30 years. I see a movement disorder specialist who has worked hard to keep me symptom free. Recently my pharmacist refused to fill the one medication that works. Thinking that I wouldn’t be able to get it filled resulted in my planning suicide. Restless leg syndrome can be torture. See a movement disorder specialist if you can find one.

I’ve had it for 30 years. For me it is chronic and gets worse as I get older. I’ve taken Mirapex and ropinerol. They worked at first and later lost their effectiveness. I go to a movement disorder specialist who has treated me with respect and worked hard to manage the symptoms. Recently my pharmacist refused to fill a medication that keeps me free of symptoms. I panicked, knowing that I might have to go without the medication. I have symptoms on the entire right side of my body. My symptoms are sheer torture. Suicide seemed like the only thing that would release me from the torture. At that time I found a pharmacist who would fill the Rx. She saved my life. RLS is no joke! I wish you all well, and get treatment that can alleviate your symptoms.

Years ago, when I was dealing with some depression, my doctor prescribed Trazadone. At that time, I had never even heard of “restless leg syndrome.” When I commented that I no long had “jumpy legs,” my doctor said that there had been a study showing the efficacy of Trazadone in treating RLS. I still take 50 mg of Trazadone about once or twice a week and rarely have a problem with RLS anymore.

I second that recommendation of using (yellow) mustard to control RLS. RLS and leg, foot cramps stem from a neural condition I believe. I use it for both with success. I have leg cramps more often and RLS occasionally. You recently published here recently the medical evidence of the effect of the mustard on leg cramps and the relief it gives.

When stretching wasn’t enough to relieve my restless legs, I found that wrapping them in Ace bandages helped. Something about the compression relieved the jerky, twitchy sensations. When it got so that no longer helped, I tried the bar of soap under the covers and was delighted that it works! A plus is the nice scent of the soap – just generic soap from the store.

I had RL. It was very simple to cure it. I simply rubbed coconut oil all up and down my leg and the bottom and top of my foot. I made sure to go all the way up the leg.

Just this summer I was given a topical CBD cream which has a small amount of THC in it, and experienced instant relief from my restless legs. Unfortunately, this cream is not available in my home state. Meanwhile, I am experimenting with OTC CBD creams that do not have any THC but so far do not work as well. Given the neurological component of RLS, I suspect the THC is an important component.

I have had RLS for over 20 years. People who don’t understand don’t know how much it affects you. I was recently hospitalized for a GI bleed and was given 4 units of blood. I haven’t had RLS since I was discharged. My doctor said the blood gave me 6 months of iron a shortage of which may have contributed to RLS since my hemoglobin was down to 6. Now I take an iron supplement every other day and still no RLS…

HI, I have experienced RLS on occasion and it is a nightmare. The constant need to move results in me jerking my arms up and down like I’m making snow angles and at times I rock my head back and forth just to pass the time. I also get up and walk yet this doesn’t help and I just wait for it to pass; usually by morning as it strikes me at night.

Being in a severely depressed mood is one way it comes up as well as any PM medication which I avoid.
When I have it I get very worried that it won’t go away (which doesn’t help I know) and tell myself if it doesn’t then I can’t live like this. Thankfully it does pass.

My heart goes out to those who have chronic RLS as well as those who just have it from time to time. It is a real nightmare that affects one mentally as well as physically.

I’ve had RLS symptoms since a knee replacement in 2005. The neurologist couldn’t establish a physical basis for neuropathy, so shrugged her shoulders and diagnosed it as RLS and prescribed Gabapentin. That drug makes me sleepy so I take it only at night, and not during the day which, ideally, would give me a loading-dose to keep sx from happening in the first place. Years ago, I went kayaking and put my bare feet in the cold water, and had an entire year’s worth of misery. No more kayaking. Only warm water for me; no wading in the ocean or walking barefoot on cold floors. I have recently experienced a pulmonary embolism; taking a blood thinner has improved the condition, and leads me to suspect it is (also?) a circulation problem, so I vigorously massage and squeeze my feet before bedtime, which gets blood flowing to capillaries.

I only get it when I elevate my legs.

I have had restless leg syndrome since I was 18, and I’ve miserably had to suffer through it for the past 19 years (I’m 37). I recently found out in the last six months, that it is a MAGNESIUM DEFICIENCY for me. What a revelation! I no longer have restless leg syndrome. The way that I stopped this terrible ailment was remineralizing my water with trace minerals. I remineralize a gallon at a time and I purchased my water for $0.20 a gallon from a water refill station that has reverse osmosis and UV light filtering. The water I drink is the best tasting I’ve ever found. Truly hydrating and nourishing for my body! It is the closest I can get to what my body wants when it comes to a drink of water. I can feel and taste the difference.

Mom has RLS (96 years old) and I also must have had it since college when sitting in the theatre or taking a plane at night was difficult. Mom told me her MD prescribed L-Dopa which is used for Parkinson’s and it helped her immensely. I’ve been on Mirapex for years and unfortunately have been slowly having to increase the dose since RLS has been known to get worse as time goes on. My MD also recommended iron since my iron (ferritin) level was low. I also take magnesium before bedtime and walk around the living room before I go to sleep. I have pretty good control now however there are nights when I haven’t taken enough Mirapex but don’t know it because it takes 2-3 hours to work. Ugh! Also if my back pain is flaring up I pretty much know it’ll be a bad RLS night unless I treat the pain and simultaneously up the Mirapex. I was hoping but the bar(s) of soap didn’t work for me. I am just so grateful for Mirapex and my great MD who looked into all the other stuff for this complicated disorder. I agree that more research needs to be done. Thank you for bringing attention to this!

My wife had RLS, all her sisters have it, her mother had it. At one point, a lab technician I used to work with was designing a little electronic device that was applied just in front of each ear and was programmed, with the assistance of an Acupuncturist, to deliver “electroacupuncture” to very specific points in the region of the ear. My wife wore these little devices for about 3-4 days. During this time, the devices automatically administered small electrical stimulation to the acupuncture points. After 4 days, the RLS was essentially gone. I’d say it’s now about 10 years and the RLS has not returned. For readers of this article and sufferers of RLS, I would look into Acupuncture as a potential treatment.

I have suffered with RLS since I was in High School, I am 55 now and it only gets worse over the years. It now affects my brain also, where it can not shut down at night and I can feel something like the blood being pushed through my brain with each heart beat. It is really hard to describe. Airplanes are horrible as the rumble moves up my feet. I have the familial type as it runs in my family to include my twin sister. I can only do jobs where I am constantly on my feet, Take night shifts to avoid nighttime because sleep just never happens. I now take 1 mg of klonopin, and it shuts the brain down so I can sleep. It’s a life saver, as the prescription RLS Drugs have so many side affects and didn’t work.

My wife and my doctor told me I was suffering from RLS almost every night; I thought it was the occasional active dream or “nightmare” where imaginary running or fighting was involved. But my doctor prescribed Gabapentin (300 mg). I can’t tell any difference still but my wife is sleeping better and reports no restless legs! Who woulda thunk it?

I have suffered severe restless legs for years. I found that the Magnilife relaxing leg cream is a tremendous help. I am able to get by rubbing it on my thighs. Make sure to use enough, and let it dry. It works about 85% of the time. sometimes a second application is needed. I have also found if I don’t cross my legs it helps quite a bit. If I wear a flat shoe I will also have leg issues. A good arch support is a must. I also do leg stretches throughout the day and before bed. This regimen is a pain to follow but it’s worth it to be able to sleep.

My husband has restless leg syndrome. It was so bad that I was advised to sleep in a different bed because of the violent movements of both his legs and arms. He now takes 600mg Gabapentin nightly and, for the most part, he is able to sleep without the movements. Sometimes he has to take more medication during the night.

YES, RLS does make you consider suicide! I suffered from it fo over 20 years & tried all the drugs mentioned plus many more and every OTC item that said it was a help. After seeing 4 neurologists and 3 primary care physicians I got an appointment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester with the sleep medicine center. Methadone (controversial) was prescribed and it is truly my miracle drug! Anyone who has RLS should go online and join the Restless Leg Foundation. It’s cheap and they are a lifeline to the several RLS centers around the country. Every month’s newsletter and free webinars are a wealth of information.. it could save your life. It helped save mine.

This is by far the most informative article you have published. But I cannot stress the importance of people on medications like Mirapex and Ropineral to know about the possibility of going into augmentation when increasing the dosage of these medications. Your legs go into overtime jerking throughout the day along with jerking during the night. Please consider using this warning in your next article on RLS.

30 years ago I had RLS. I read a letter in a popular health magazine about a lady who had the same problem and cured it with 400 units Vitamin E daily. I decided to try it. It was a success. I don’t have RLS any longer, and I have not needed the extra Vitamin E for a long time.

I use a magnesium lotion on those nights when my legs keep me awake. Works within a few minutes.

I have suffered from RLS for years. As soon as it starts I use a massager and start massaging one or both legs. Recently I started taking Cymbalta and noticed my RLS all but disappeared. So I did some research and found that the blocking of the uptake of norepinephrine was probably the reason for my relief. In my research I came across Savella which is approved for fibromyalgia. It is designed to concentrate on blocking the uptake of norepinephrine even more than Cymbalta. So I am going to see if my doctor will let me try this. It is approved for depression in Europe but not in the United States. Either way, I’m glad I have found something that works. I have been on ropinirole and gabapentin for a long time with little relief. I had to nearly knock myself out with medication before I could even consider going to bed.

A yoga instructor suggested this in our class: Put a foam block under your hips. Raise your legs so they are above your head for 5-10 minutes. This has worked for my husband to reduce that constant leg movement. Anything is worth a try!

RLS
I found the solution. Trying a lot over the years I realized RLS is somehow connected to 1) being slightly overtired. 2) legs not warm enough. 3) circulation disturbance. I had it already when I was a teen.

I at once get up and rinse legs with warm water. Or I just massage with oil or lotion vigorously. Then walk a bit up and down. I then cover lower legs with sheet and blanket, even in hot FL.
I know it’s somehow connected to circulation, nerves, temperature. I realized that when it starts leg(s) are always quite cool.

Since I now take care when I go to bed to cover at least lower legs to keep them warm, I rarely have RLS.
It’s also best to right away get up when it starts. At least massage leg(s) with lotion, and wrap them gently in a sheet or light blanket in summer. It usually stops it.

Even as a teen I got it sitting at dinner. I could not stand it and had to get up.
Best wishes.

I have had RLS on and off since I was nine years old. Recently I tried a “natural” medicine called Calm Legs that I got on Amazon, figuring it was not too expensive and worth a try. To my amazement, it actually works. I take half the dosage it suggests and that seemed to work better for me than the full dose, although I have no idea why. There is no one thing that seems to work for everyone, but hopefully someone will see this comment, and it will help them too!

I have had RLS involving arms and torso as well. I take requip 4 times a day to keep symptoms away. Been on it for years. Requip makes me sleepy if I ‘m not busy. I can understand that untreated RLS would make one consider suicide and some carry through with death by suicide.

I suffer from rls severely bad, so bad it seems as if my legs have Tourette’s, haha. I drink I good swallow of pickle juice and it calms my legs and works every time.

I have had moderate restless leg issues on an occasional basis. I was able to gain relief by applying Topricin cream over the entire leg and rubbing it in.

Glad it helped you. We have no idea how this homeopathic product would work.

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