Thursday, June 18, 2009


Restless legs syndrome (RLS) does not refer to a desire to travel to far-off places. Rather, RLS is a rather common condition characterized by discomfort, usually below the knees and in both legs, that occurs only when a person is at rest. Symptoms are rapidly but only temporarily relieved by movement.

The cause of RLS is unknown, but sufferers often have a family history of the disorder and researchers have identified a few genes associated with RLS. Several studies have suggested that RLS is associated with iron deficiency, and some reports describe relief of symptoms when a deficiency is corrected by taking iron pills.

If your RLS-like symptoms are keeping you (or your spouse) awake at night, it would be worth a trip to your doctor even though there is no way to make the diagnosis and no surefire treatment. A blood test might show iron deficiency and make a trial of iron pills worthwhile. And since RLS comes on during situations that make a person sleepy—inactivity, sitting still, boredom—doing some "alerting activities" that wake up the mind can sometimes temporarily alleviate your symptoms at these times. Alerting activities include playing video or card games, doing crossword puzzles or needlework, or even reading a gripping novel. On the other hand, caffeine, alcohol, and smoking can all aggravate symptoms, and should be avoided.

If none of these measures work, your doctor might prescribe one of a number of different medications that have shown variable success in relieving RLS symptoms. The problem is not only that these drugs might fail to lessen symptoms but also that their cost and possible side effects might be prohibitive. And, in the absence of a sure way to make the diagnosis, there's always the possibility that you may not even have RLS.


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