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Tips and Treatments for Restless Leg Syndrome
published May 30, 2011

Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about restless leg syndrome? I’m 58 years old, and my wife thinks I may have it because I sometimes wake her up at night kicking my legs.
Restless Larry

Dear Larry,
If an irresistible urge to move your legs has you kicking in your sleep, you may indeed have restless leg syndrome (RLS), a common, under diagnosed condition that affects around 10 percent of Americans. Here’s what you should know.
 
Do You Have RLS?
RLS is a neurological disorder that causes unpleasant sensations in the legs (usually in the calf area) and an irresistible urge to move your legs when resting or sitting still, and the symptoms usually get worse with age. The main complaint with RLS, other than it being uncomfortable, is that it disrupts sleep.
 
While researchers have yet to pin down a specific cause of RLS, they do know of various conditions that are linked to it including: Genetics (it often runs in families); anemia; kidney problems; peripheral neuropathy; diabetes; attention deficit disorder; and even pregnancy. Do you have RLS? If you answer yes to most of these questions, you probably do.
  • When you sit or lie down, do you have a strong desire to move your legs?
  • Does your desire to move your legs feel impossible to resist?
  • Would you use the words unpleasant, creepy-crawly, electric current, itching, tingling, pulling, or tugging to describe your symptoms?
  • Does your desire to move often occur when you are resting or sitting still?
  • Does moving your legs make you feel better?
  • Do these symptoms bother you more at night?
  • Do your ever have involuntary leg movements while you are awake?
 
Tips and Remedies
While there’s no cure for RLS, there are some things you can do to alleviate the symptoms. Depending on the severity of your case, here are some tips and remedies that may help:
  • Get a blood test: Studies show that iron or vitamin deficiency can cause or worsen RLS. Your doctor can easily check this with a simple blood test, and may recommend supplementing your diet with vitamin E, iron, vitamin B12 or folate.
  • Check your meds: Certain drugs that treat high blood pressure, heart conditions, nausea, colds, allergies and depression can make RLS worse. If you take any of these, ask your doctor if something else can be prescribed.
  • Watch your diet: Pay attention to what you eat to see if it may cause or increase your symptoms.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol: Both of these can make symptoms worse.
  • Stretch: A good calf stretch and a strong massage may provide some relief. 
  • Take a bath: For some people a hot or cold bath can help, or try using a heating pad or ice pack.
  • Try compression: Wrapping ace bandages or wearing compression support stockings around the problem area has also been known to help.
  • Exercise: Moderate exercise (20 to 30 minutes three or four times a week) can also relieve symptoms and help you sleep better. Exercising late in the evening however can induce symptoms.
  • Reduce stress: Stress can aggravate RLS. Meditation and yoga are good relaxation techniques you may want to try, especially before going to bed at night.
 
Treatments
If the tips or remedies don’t improve your condition prescription medications may help. Requip (or its generic Ropinirole) and Mirapex are two drugs approved by the FDA to treat RLS, but there are several other drugs that treat other conditions (dopaminergic agents, sedatives, anticonvulsants and pain relievers) that have also been found to be helpful. Talk to your doctor about these options, or consult an RLS specialist (see rls.org to locate one) or a sleep specialist (see sleepcenters.org).

Savvy Senior is written by Jim Miller. Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior book.

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