Restless Legs Syndrome Specialist Manchester NH
Kicking Restless Legs Syndrome
By Kristin Bjornsen
Julie Lutz calls it the creepy crawlies and describes the feeling as ants marching around in her skin. Her 8-year-old daughter, Anna, stands and says, “It makes me do this,” shaking her legs around.
Both of them are describing Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), a condition that is often hereditary. RLS manifests as discomfort, prickliness, or pain in the legs (and occasionally the arms) and as an overwhelming urge to move them, especially when trying to sleep. “Even if someone held a gun to my head and said, ‘Don’t move,’ I’d have to move them,” says 46-year-old Julie. “It’s irresistible.”
Almost 10 percent of Americans have symptoms of RLS, and yet many sufferers have never heard of the condition, and they often don’t discuss their symptoms with a doctor. “It’s such a hard sensation to explain to someone,” says Julie. “That makes it so awkward to go to a doctor and try and describe it.”
Although researchers don’t completely understand RLS yet, they’ve identified several potential causes: deficiencies in dopamine, iron, or certain minerals; nerve damage; and more rarely, hypoglycemia and hypothyroidism. Doctors can prescribe a host of drugs for RLS, including medications for Parkinson’s disease, hypnotics, antiseizure drugs, and antidepressants, most of which modulate dopamine or serotonin levels. But most also carry serious side effects such as depression, breathing problems, memory loss, weight gain, headaches, dizziness, sexual dysfunction, and augmentation (intensification of symptoms in the late afternoon). What’s more, some of the drugs can lose their effectiveness after extended use.
“Parkinson’s drugs stop working after a while, raising the concern that they may be damaging or exhausting the biochemistry of that area of the brain,” says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, director of The Annapolis Center for Effective CFS/Fibromyalgia Therapies and author of Pain Free 1-2-3 (McGraw Hill, 2006). “The long-term issues are really concerning.” Luckily, a plethora of more natural—and often more effective—options can target the underlying causes of RLS.
Pin it down
Identifying a specific cause can be tricky. While RLS often (pardon the pun) runs in the family, you can also develop it from secondary medical conditions, such as hypoglycemia, diabetes, and hypothyroidism. In these cases, treating that condition may relieve the symptoms. Certain medications can trigger RLS as well. Common culprits include calcium channel blockers, antinausea medications, some cold and allergy medications, tranquilizers, and phenytoin (an antiseizure drug). Tricyclic antidepressants like Elavil and lithium can contribute to RLS as well, Teitelbaum says.
Hormonal changes, especially pregnancy, seem to play a role, too. Although Julie had always been an extraordinarily active and restless sleeper, that only intensified when she became pregnant with Anna in 1996. RLS symptoms plagued her 24 hours a day, making it difficult for her to sit still. She pac...
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