Savvy Senior

by | July 31, 2006 12:00 am

Restless Leg Syndrome

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you tell me about restless leg syndrome, and what can be done to treat? I’m 59 years old and think I may have it. Jumpy Judy

Dear Judy,

Restless leg syndrome (RLS) is considered to be one of the most under diagnosed, common conditions that most Americans know nothing about. Here’s what you should know.

Jumpy Legs

A condition that affects around 10 percent of the U.S. population, 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. While RLS can begin at any age, symptoms usually become more severe in middle to-old age. The main complaint with RLS (other than it being uncomfortable) is that at night, when the symptoms tend to be worse, it disrupts sleep. Do you have RLS? Here are some questions to ask yourself that may help you know:

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 you keep your bed partner awake with the jerking movements of your legs?

Do your ever have involuntary leg movements while you are awake?

Savvy Facts: While doctors still don’t know what causes RLS, they do know of various conditions that are linked to it, such as genetics (it often runs in families), anemia, kidney problems, peripheral neuropathy, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, attention deficit disorder and pregnancy. Other factors

that can contribute and aggravate RLS are certain medications, caffeine, alcohol, stress and more.

Treatment Tips

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 that may help:

Check your meds: Certain drugs that treat high blood pressure, heart conditions, nausea, colds, allergies and depression can make RLS worse. Ask your doctor to prescribe another medicine if this seems to be happening to you.

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.

Watch your diet: Pay attention to what you eat and if it may cause or increase your symptoms.

Drop or reduce the vices: Caffeine, alcohol and tobacco can all make symptoms worse.

Stretch and massage: A good calf stretch and a strong massage may provide some relief.

Hot and cold: For some people, a hot or cold bath can help or try using a heating pad or ice pack.

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.

Improve sleep patterns: Fatigue also tends to worsen symptoms, so help yourself by maintaining a regular sleep scheduled. See for healthy sleeping tips.

Drug treatments: If the above tips don’t improve your condition your doctor may prescribe a medication. Possible options include Requip, a relatively new drug and the first one specifically approved by the FDA to treat RLS. Other drugs that can help are dopaminergic agents (also used to treat Parkinson’s disease), sedatives, anticonvulsants, and pain relievers.

Savvy Tip: To learn more or to locate a healthcare provider in your area who specializes in treating RLS,

visit the Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation at You can also call them at 877-463-6757 and their free RLS publications.

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

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