Stories on Curt's Human Disease Website

Name of the Disease: Restless-Legs Syndrome

Author: Randy Chafin

Story Submitted February, 1999:

My Successful Battle With Restless Legs Syndrome
By Randy Chafin

My affliction is not so much a disease as it is a discomfort. What I suffer from is a sleep disorder called Restless Legs Syndrome, or RLS. I think I may have conquered it, and wanted to share my story with other sufferers.

My symptoms began about three years ago, beginning with infrequent, rather light attacks. I had no idea what it was. All I knew was that it was extremely uncomfortable and kept me from sleeping. Describing RLS symptoms is difficult because the sensations are so vague and because the attacks occur just as you're about to fall asleep, a time when your powers of observation are low. Here's how I would describe my attacks: Just as I'm about to drift off into sleep, an annoying - although not painful - tickling sensation will occur in one of the major muscle groups in one of my legs. It feels as if a large worm is struggling under the skin surface. Unlike a muscle cramp, there is no painful sensation of the muscle constricting and becoming knotted. Sometimes, a few sleepy stretches or deep-tissue massage would chase it away. Other, stronger attacks would have me out of bed and on the floor doing aggressive stretches. During these attacks sleep is impossible. Once an attack occurred, it was almost as if my mind became alert in anticipation of the next inevitable attack.

At this point, I still didn't know what my affliction was called. As the stretching remedy became less effective and attacks became stronger and more frequent, I took my wife's suggestion and consulted my doctor. At first, when I described my symptoms to him, he was baffled, having never encountered it in a patient. It was only after consulting his medical data base that he concluded that what I had was RLS. He prescribed Quinine Sulfate, a substance used to treat muscle cramps and malaria. I began taking a 325 mg capsule at the onset of an attack. At first it seemed to do trick, and I was relieved. Then, it seems the RLS developed a resistance to Quinine. Attacks returned with greater frequency and strength. According to my records, attacks were occurring as frequently as 13 times per month. The average for one year was 7 times per month.

I began doing research on my own, consulting medical journals and the Internet. I found several references to the affliction, but nothing that offered a solid cure. I even found an RLS website. Here and elsewhere on the web I found numerous postings from fellow suffers, suggesting remedies that ran the gamut from loofa scrubbings, to deep tissue massage to antihistamines to Sinemet (a prescription drug) to opiates. None of these was reported to be the "silver bullet" I sought. I especially was leery of taking any drug that might have undesirable side-effects. In my research, I also discovered that, in one study, many RLS sufferers were found to have low iron stores.

I had my blood tested and discovered that my iron stores were below the normal range. After ruling out other causes, my doctor attributed this deficiency to my frequent blood donations (every 8 weeks) for the past three years. He suggested that I stop donating blood and begin taking a daily iron supplement. I consumed a bottle of 100 ferrous sulfate 324 mg tablets over the course of three months, and had my iron levels tested again. This time I was within the normal range. I continue to take a low dosage of iron (18 mg) as part of a daily multi-vitamin.

It appears that the iron deficiency was the cause of my problem. Since re-building my iron stores, the frequency of my RLS attacks has fallen dramatically, to one (1) per month. I'm hopeful that attacks will eventually cease altogether. Now, my wife says I can focus my attention on solving my other sleep disorder: snoring.

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