Restless Leg Sufferers Find Some Relief

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For restless leg syndrome sufferers, the urge to move their legs when they sit or lie down can prove impossible to resist.

Those afflicted tell of rubbing holes in the sheets with their heels, pacing the floor in the middle of the night, and trying to function during the day on very little sleep.

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"Until I had medication, I didn't learn to live with it. You can't," said Beverly Davis, who suffers from restless leg syndrome. "You just don't sleep. The nights that it happens, you're going to walk the floor. You crochet, you do other things to occupy your mind."

"It's like having worms crawling inside your legs," said local restless leg support group leader Beverly Davis. "Terrible! Have you ever had ants crawl all over you? Everyone has a different sensation -- mine are like worms."

Davis knew it wasn't "all in her head," as many doctors had told her.

Her sister and son have RLS, and she thinks her father had it.

"He used to sit and keep his legs going and his hands going. I never knew why."

Davis was first treated for RLS in 1990. Her doctor prescribed maripex and after settling upon the right dosage, Davis said she remains in complete control of her symptoms.

The 82-year-old started the RLS support group in Payson because she wanted to help provide support and education to sufferers.

Joe and Jean Montgomery have been married 59 years.

"RLS has cursed us to go to sleep in separate beds," Jean said.

There are periods when RLS is not as intense for her husband, but if he sits too long he must get up and walk to relieve the sensations of motion within his legs.

At the support group, they talked to others who had success taking their medication earlier in the evening. So he tried the earlier time and found it helpful.

The Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation provides the group's materials and online information at www.rls.org.

Physician Michael P. Lowe is the group's medical adviser.

Davis gives information to those who attend, that they can take to their doctors. Once a person gets the help they need, they don't come to the group as often.

Members are supportive of each other.

"Being able to talk to someone and know you aren't crazy," member Pat Rollinson said.

The RLSF states that up to eight percent of the U.S. population may have RLS.

Four features must be present for a diagnosis of RLS: A strong urge to move the legs that may be impossible to resist, usually accompanied by a creepy-crawly feeling; RLS symptoms start or become worse when the individual is at rest; symptoms are reduced by voluntary movement of the affected extremities; and RLS can happen during the day but is generally worse in the evening and at night.

RLS is diagnosed most often in middle age, yet many individuals trace their symptoms back to childhood.

A National Institute of Health pamphlet said that RLS is a central nervous system disorder.

It is not caused by psychiatric factors or by stress, although these may contribute to or exacerbate the disorder, and a high incidence of family members having RLS suggests a genetic origin.

Secondary causes of RLS have been reported, including iron deficiency, neurologic lesions on the spinal cord and peripheral nerves, uremia or end-stage renal failure, certain medications and caffeine.

Up to 19 percent of pregnant women experience RLS symptoms, but they usually subside post partum.

NIH and RLSF are in agreement that the severity of RLS varies from patient to patient. At this time, there is no single treatment that works predictably for all patients to allow them to get the rest and sleep the human body needs.

As a sleep specialist doctor, Simon Galhotra said he sees many RLS patients.

"Requip is the newest drug on the market -- and the only one FDA approved for treatment of RLS -- but the truth is that no one drug works for all sufferers," Galhotra said. "Often clonazepam is what I try first, and it works on about half the cases."

The RLSF suggests going to bed later, rising later, and maintaining a cool quiet sleeping environment.

The Restless Leg Syndrome support group meets at 2 p.m. for an hour and a half to two hours the third Saturday of every month at the Senior Circle building, 215 N. Beeline Highway, Payson. Beverly Davis may be contacted at (928) 468-6626 or tangerine@cybertrails.com.

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