What You Need to Know About Restless Legs Syndrome Medication
Does the constant need to move your legs keep you up at night? Fortunately, there are several therapies for restless leg syndrome, including medications and varicose veins treatments.
About 10 percent of the U.S. population has restless leg syndrome (RLS). If you’re one of them, you’re no doubt familiar with the tugging, crawling, and twitching sensations in the legs and feet that become particularly acute when you try to rest at night. Moving your legs provides a measure of relief, but the effect is only temporary.
Doctors have yet to pinpoint an exact cause of RLS. It could be due to abnormal levels of dopamine in the brain, an iron deficiency, or poor circulation, which can result in varicose veins. The condition may be inherited or appear as a consequence of pregnancy. In addition, RLS sometimes occurs as a side effect of another chronic condition, such as diabetes or kidney disease. Whatever the cause, there are treatments to relieve the painful symptoms, including a number of medications, as well non-invasive surgeries for varicose veins.
Medications for RLS
Fortunately, several medications have proven effective in treating RLS. Although the drugs are not a cure, they will help you get a restful sleep. Before prescribing any medication, your doctor will take an inventory of your symptoms and other drugs you take. A blood test may also be administered to find out if you are iron deficient; if you are, you’ll be advised to take iron supplements under the direction of your doctor.
For mild and severe RLS, a medication may be your best therapy option. If your doctor prescribes a medication for RLS, it will likely be one of these types:
Dopamine Agonists. Dopamine is a brain chemical that regulates body movements. If your dopamine level is below normal, a dopamine agonist can increase the dopamine levels in your brain. Medications that fall into this category include pramipexole (Mirapex); ropinirole (Requip); and rotigotine (Neupro).
Dopamine agonists are usually the first drugs prescribed for RLS. However, these medications may cause mild side effects, such as nausea, fatigue, and lightheadedness.
Anticonvulsants. Anticonvulsant drugs treat not only RLS, but chronic pain and nerve pain, as well. Within the anticonvulsant tier of drugs, gabapentin (Neurontin, Gralise); gabapentin enacarbil (Horizant); and pregabalin (Lyrica) have been approved by the FDA for RLS.
Muscle Relaxants and Sleep Medications. This class of drugs known as benzodiazepines don’t relieve RLS symptoms; instead, these sedatives help you sleep so you don’t notice the effects of RLS. Among the medications in this group are alprazolam (Xanax); clonazepam (Klonopin); and temazepam (Restoril).
Opioids. Typically used to treat pain, opioids may be prescribed if other drugs fail to reduce symptoms. Because these medications can be addictive, your doctor will only recommend opioids such as codeine, oxycodone (Oxycontin), and hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco) when all other medications don’t improve your RLS.
Finding the right medication to treat your RLS may take some time, and the effectiveness of some dopamine medications may lessen over time. If that happens, your doctor will switch to another medication or suggest a combination of drugs. Your doctor will supervise your treatment to ensure you’re getting the right drug and dosage.
Other Treatments for RLS
Medications aren’t the only treatment for RLS. You can practice some home remedies to get a good night’s rest.
- Regular Exercise. Mild exercise during the day helps you sleep at night. But vigorous workouts or exercising too close to bedtime may have the opposite effect. Stretching your calf and upper leg muscles before bed reduces stress and alleviates RLS, too.
- Establish a Sleep Routine. To avoid excessive daytime fatigue, make sure to get at least seven hours of sleep each night. Practice good sleep habits by going to bed and rising at the same time. Turn off any distractions, such as the TV or computer, an hour before bedtime.
- Massages. A gentle massage before bed relaxes your leg muscles. You can also soak in a warm tub while you massage, or alternate between cold and hot compresses to soothe the leg twitches and other uncomfortable RLS sensations.
- Cut Out Caffeine. Skip that cup of coffee just before bedtime. Limit other sources of caffeine, such as colas, teas, and chocolate, that give you a jolt of energy at a time when you want to sleep.
- Treat Your Varicose Veins. Varicose veins often produce the same symptoms as RLS — cramping, pain, and itching that can make sleep nearly impossible. In fact, several studies have documented a connection between RLS and varicose veins as well as a reduction in RLS symptoms when varicose veins were treated with sclerotherapy, a common therapy for varicose veins.
Let Us Help You Sleep Better
The doctors and staff at the Centers for Vein Restoration across the country specialize in treating varicose veins with state-of-the-art, minimally invasive surgical procedures. If you think your RLS is caused by your varicose veins, come in and consult with one of our veins specialists on ways to eliminate your varicose veins — and help you get the rest you need. Make an appointment today.