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Friday, December 9, 2016

Restless Legs Syndrome

I had to laugh at this one; but for anyone who suffers from
RLS, this remedy has probably crossed their mind a time or two.

For the benefit of those who are only interested in art, let me say right here and now that this posting is not about art. If that's your only interest, then, as the police would say, "Move on, there's nothing to see here." I thought of trying to stretch the title topic around some element of art, but any such distortion would quickly be seen as just that. No, this item is completely self-serving. I suffer from a moderate case of Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). Thanks chiefly to a certain amount of pharmaceutical advertising on TV, most people have now, at the very least, heard of this problem. I'm thoroughly aware that RLS is a relatively benign nuisance as compared to any number of other physical impairments, resulting in severe handicaps and life-threatening conditions.

I'm not seeking sympathy. I'm seeking to help and be helped. One of the problems in discussing RLS is that even those who have it, also have trouble describing it. Depending upon severity, it's been described as a tingling, an itch, a pain in the legs (and in the ass, too), but in essence an urge to simply move ones leg/legs, which usually occurs repeatedly in spasms coming about every ten to twenty seconds and lasting for two or three seconds. It's a mildly aching twitch. I mentioned the fact earlier that RLS was a nuisance ailment. These spasms usually occur when one is resting, sleeping, and/or attempting to sleep. Sleep deprivation is probably the most serious direct result of RLS.

For those who know little about this condition, it effects about 15 percent of the total population to some degree, and is usually more common to women than men (especially pregnant women). It's also hereditary. My mother had it, my sister has it, my brother had a mild case, and my thirty-five-year-old son is starting to notice symptoms. (He finds wearing sweatpants to bed helps.) I mention his age here because few people under forty find RLS to be a be a problem. I first recall this "twitch" when I was about five years old, but it was rare until after I turned forty; and since then has grown to be more and more noticeable each year (I'm seventy-one now).

For those suffering, don't expect much help with RLS from your family physician unless he or she is also beset with such symptoms. When I first mentioned RLS to my doctor about twelve years ago, he said he'd "heard of it." I quickly discovered that I knew more about RLS that he did. Fortunately there's no need for tests in diagnosing the condition (nor are there any). Believe me, if you've got it, you know it, and can easily diagnose it yourself. In my case, describing the symptoms was sufficient to warrant a prescription for Requip, (generically known as ropinirole). I started with a daily one-milligram dosage, which helped immensely. I'm now taking that dosage three times a day (every eight hours), which allows a modest degree of symptom control. The maximum dosage is four milligrams a day. It's the nature of the drug that it's effectiveness declines over time, requiring gradual increases in dosages.

Another problem with RLS seems to be that there are few decisive studies as to cause and cure. In my own exploration of the literature I've about come to the realization that there are no real "experts" on the subject; far too little research; and far too much homeopathic guesswork. They say magnesium helps. I also suffer from recurring leg cramps (which may or may not be related to RLS), though my self-prescribed dosage of 750 mg. daily seems to ward off such painful occurrences. I also take tart cherry extract in capsule form (1200 mg.) three times a day as suggested by a fellow sufferer. That seems to have little effect on my RLS (perhaps the dosage is too low). However, I continue taking them in that research suggests they may be useful in alleviating sleep problems due to their high melatonin content, a compound critical in regulating the sleep-wake cycle.

And finally, there's also the exercise element in the RLS equation. I long ago came to realize that if I stood put-ting all my weight on the problem leg, (while holding onto some solid support) then flexing my knee about once per second for some three-hundred rep-etitions the symptoms will recede in that leg only allowing me to sleep. I know, the cure sounds worse than the ailment, and your leg, believe me, WILL come to ache; but my feeling is that the ache tends to overcome the RLS spasms. Also, simply stand up on the effected leg for several minutes sometimes helps. More recently, I've also found that climbing a flight of stairs five times or doing ten minutes on an elliptical trainer (imitating cross-country skiing) also helps. None of these offer sure-fire relief, though the elliptical trainer seems to be the most reliable in that regard.

I suppose the best advice I could offer people like myself as to RLS is to become an "expert" yourself on the subject. Read the literature online, but don't believe everything you read. Experiment with various forms of exercise and over-the-count-er items. Few in the medical profession will be much help, though there are three or four major generic drugs (ropinirole, gabapentin, clonazepam, and as a last resort, possibly opioids such as codeine). Look these up yourself then consult your doctor as to which might work best for you. Most of all, and the whole purpose in departing from my usual art topics, is for those reading this, who are "victims" of RLS, to get back to me if any of this helps, and with what works for you (and what doesn't).

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