Ask Dr. Monti: Is Restless Leg Syndrome Real?

Answer from Daniel A. Monti, director of the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital

Dr. Monti

Question: Is Restless Leg Syndrome real? And if so, are there any natural ways to treat it?

Answer: Yes, it is real. As many as 10 percent of the U.S. population may have some form of Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). It is about twice as common in females.

Patients often describe their symptoms as creepy, crawly, jumpy, bubbly, anxious, and sometimes painful sensations in their calves, typically occurring in the evenings or bedtime. The most distinctive or unusual aspect of the condition is that lying down and trying to relax can actually activate the symptoms and make them worse. Most people with RLS have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Many people with RLS report that their job, personal relations, and activities of daily life are negatively affected as a result of their sleep deprivation.

Most of the time, the cause of RLS is unknown. Sometimes an underlying medical issue is creating the symptoms, such as iron deficiency, renal disease, pregnancy, peripheral neuropathies or sleep apnea. Certain foods and medications can also cause RLS symptoms, including coffee, chocolate, tea, anti-depressants and major tranquilizers.

Some people with RLS do not seek medical attention, believing that they will not be taken seriously or that their condition is not treatable. Some physicians wrongly attribute the symptoms to nervousness, stress, muscle cramps or aging. RLS is a problem that is best handled by an expert, so I consulted leading Philadelphia neurologist, Ramon Manon, MD, about treatment of RLS. He relayed that the main FDA-approved drugs are ropinirole and pramipexole, which require a prescription.

Some natural ways of addressing RLS include: avoidance of substances that can contribute to symptoms such as caffeine, tea, chocolate, decongestants and monosodium glutamate. Aerobic exercise may help. Knee-high stockings, riding a stationary bike, walking on a treadmill, stretching, hot baths, icepacks, massage and vigorous rubbing may improve the symptoms of RLS. Before doing any of these, discuss your symptoms with your physician.

ASK DR. MONTI: E-mail Dr. Monti your question here, and he could answer it an upcoming blog post!Dr. Monti is Director of the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and the author of “The Great Life Makeover.” Read more about him here.

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