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Taking a closer look at restless legs
By Dr. Peter Gott | Columnist
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Published: 3/1/2010 12:01 AM

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Q. I went to my doctor about my restless-legs syndrome. He gave me a prescription, but I read the side effects and didn't take the medicine. Instead, I started rubbing my feet, legs and hips with a topical cooling ointment and put on warm socks before going to bed. I've not had a restless night since! This works for me. It seems some of these home remedies really work. It's just a matter of finding them.

A. Pharmacy shelves are lined with a number of topical ointments and alternatives designed to help painful muscles associated with arthritis, simple backache, sports injuries, strains, sprains - and for you, in treating RLS. Some people find relief from ointments containing the warming properties of capsaicin. Others use ointments with cooling properties or with petrolatum menthol salves. I have also received positive reports for symptoms of RLS and leg cramps being treated with pickle juice, hawthorn-berry extract and marjoram mixed with carrier oil, such as olive or castor oil. Then there's the hot bath, ice pack, heating pad, massage and supplements for low levels of potassium, iron, folate and magnesium.

Q. Can you suggest something to relieve the horrible itching around my ankles? It seems to be better in the morning, but by bedtime it's so definite that I even have trouble sleeping. It's more aggravated when exposed to heat, such as by my car heater.

I do have what my doctor terms "spider veins" in that area. Other than a recent bout with stage 1 breast cancer and 10 treatments of balloon radiation, I am an extremely healthy and active 67-year-old female. My current medications are Zoloft, thyroxine and Loperamine, and I take a super vitamin B, calcium and B-12, which my cancer surgeon added due to my proneness to infection.

A. Varicose veins are a weakness in the walls of superficial veins. Many people with varicose veins also have spider veins (enlarged capillaries), which are similar but smaller and closer to the surface of the skin. Spider veins are common in the lower legs or ankles, may be caused by hormonal changes in the body or by the pressure from blood in the varicose veins, and are associated with an itch, especially following warming from socks or stockings. Because of your prone position when resting, the exertion placed on your veins is reduced, and side effects are lowered or eliminated temporarily. I do not think your medications are to blame, nor was the balloon-radiation therapy.

Elastic stockings compress veins, thereby reducing the stretching and ensuing pain. Beyond that, alternative remedies include one part horse-chestnut seed combined with 10 parts distilled witch hazel applied externally as needed or daily use of oral horse chestnut, grape-seed extract, bilberry extract, butcher's broom extract or hawthorn extract. I cannot endorse any of these remedies because I haven't had experience with them and only have reports from readers stating they work within three months of initiation. Be sure to speak with your physician before beginning these or any other course(s) of treatment.

© 2010, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.