RLS affects different people in different ways, depending on their lifestyle, job, daily activities, and habits. There are many medications that can help you deal with day-to-day discomfort.
“RLS doesn’t actually prevent anyone from doing anything,” says RLS expert, neurologist Pamela Santamaria, MD, of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, “but if it’s severe enough that people feel they have to move their legs a lot it can inhibit the activities of daily life.”
RLS is not just a nighttime problem; it can flare up during the day as well. People who drive a lot may have trouble because they sit for long periods. If you work all day at a computer, restless legs might distract you from getting your work done on time. RLS can be embarrassing. If you’re in a meeting, at a business lunch, or in a movie, it might be considered rude to get up and walk around.
The effects of RLS vary enormously. Some people consider it a minor annoyance, while it makes life extremely difficult for others. “Living with RLS is miserable as you never know when it will strike,” says Connecticut resident Dina Fullerton, 46, who has had it for six years. “When it does and you’re not prepared, you’re in for a miserable day, night, plane ride, or whatever.”
What Modern Medicine Has to Offer
Even though RLS is an incurable, lifelong condition, modern medicine can offer more relief than it has in the past. The function of the brain neurotransmitter dopamine is thought to be impaired in patients with RLS. People who have Parkinson’s disease need medications that increase dopamine. These same medicines may be effective for treating RLS. This doesn’t mean that if you have RLS, you’re at an increased risk for Parkinson’s.
“If patients are having symptoms throughout the day that they can’t accommodate by moving around, I will put them on meds,” says Dr. Santamaria. “Some people would rather not take medication, and with RLS you don’t necessarily have to be on meds, but if your symptoms are interfering with your life, medication is usually the answer. The treatment is for symptoms, not the disease,” she explains.
“If someone is having symptoms at night, I’ll give them dopamine agonists like Requip or Mirapex, which are both generic, or Sinamet,” says Dr. Santamaria. (A dopamine agonist is a compound that activates dopamine receptors in the absence of dopamine.) “For people who have symptoms during the day, there are extended-release versions which last 24 hours. If a smaller dose doesn’t work, the dose can be increased.”
A brand-new patch called Neupro is coming out in July that will make 24-hour drug delivery easier and more effective, reports Dr. Santamaria.
A brand-new patch called Neupro is available that will make 24-hour drug delivery easier and more effective, reports Dr. Santamaria. Neupro is another dopamine agonist, and clinical trials have shown it to be effective in controlling the principle symptoms of RLS.
Dopamine agonists aren’t the only drugs for RLS. “We also use anti-epileptic meds like gabapentin or Lyrica,” Santamaria says. “Benzodiazepines like clonazapam and diazepam or opiates like hydrocodone or OxyContin also work, but are last-ditch attempts because they’re so addictive.”
A Holistic Approach:
Dr. Jacob Teitlebaum, author of the book From Fatigued to Fantastic, recommends a natural approach:
- Try to control stress since it makes any neurological condition worse.
- Make sure your Ferritin (iron) level is not just normal, but over 60. If you have low iron levels, take your iron religiously. Take iron supplements on an empty stomach or they won’t be absorbed. Also, don’t take iron and thyroid meds together.
- Take 400 units of Vitamin E per day. If you have RLS in which pain and numbness are relieved by local massage, try 5 milligrams of folic acid three times a day. Also take a B12 supplement.
- Get tested and treated for these other possible triggers: small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (which causes spastic colon and can trigger RLS), low thyroid, sleep apnea, fibromyalgia, and low blood sugar.
- Don’t let yourself get too hungry. Since low blood sugar can trigger RLS, eat protein throughout the day.
- If you need medication, try neurontin, an old anti-seizure drug. It’s inexpensive and it works.