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Support Group a Source of Help and Hope for Those with Restless Legs Syndrome

September 10, 2013

Last February, when Washington Township Medical Foundation held the first meeting of a new support group for people with restless legs syndrome (RLS), the community responded enthusiastically.

"We wanted to help people learn about this troublesome condition, which affects about 10 percent of the population but is not well known or understood," said Nitun Verma, M.D., the Bay Area's leading sleep medicine physician and medical director of the Medical Foundation's Center for Sleep Disorders. "There was a great turnout for the first meeting, with more than 100 people in attendance."

"Ours is the only support group of its kind in the Bay Area, and people came from all over, including the East Bay and the Peninsula," he continued. "We are pleased to be meeting a huge need by enabling people to get together face to face and talk about their experiences with RLS, which can significantly diminish a person's quality of life."

Dr. Verma is board certified in Adult and Pediatric Sleep Medicine.

The second meeting of the Restless Legs Syndrome Support Group, which is free and open to the public, is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 17, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. The gathering will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D., Auditorium in the Washington West Building located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. To register for the session, call (510) 744-6726.

RLS is a condition affecting the nervous system. People who have it can experience symptoms of creeping, crawling, tingling or aching mostly in the legs and sometimes in the arms. These symptoms tend to happen more often when the individual is resting in the evening. Moving around can bring some relief. RLS affects people of all ages, but it becomes more common as people age.

The uncomfortable symptoms of RLS often make it difficult to sleep, and this can make someone excessively tired and sleepy during the day. The condition can be difficult to diagnose, but once it is pinpointed, there are multiple treatment options, including lifestyle changes and medication.

"Besides medical strategies, I like to focus on the non-medical things people have found to be effective in managing their symptoms," explained Dr. Verma, who presented at the last meeting and will speak again on Sept. 17. "This approach was very well received at our first meeting, with people sharing many helpful ideas and tips-what worked and what didn't. We had a really lively discussion."

The upcoming meeting will focus on medications for RLS: what are they, how they work, and what are the positives and negatives for patients.

"We hope some people will learn about medications they may not be aware of," added Dr. Verma. "We will also reinforce some of the non-medical treatment options, as we did during the first session."

If you think you or someone you know may have RLS, you are welcome to attend the support group meeting to learn more.

"Many people who have the symptoms of RLS often don't see a doctor because they assume nothing can be done," Dr. Verma continued. "Others go to the drug store seeking over-the-counter medications. If people do see a doctor, they may not get the help they need because not all doctors are familiar with the condition. Patients run the risk of getting prescriptions for sleep medications or muscle relaxants that don't work or can even make symptoms worse."

Common symptoms of RLS include:

  • Restless, nervous, or creepy-crawly sensations in the limbs and upper body that may be relieved by moving the arms and legs
  • Greater severity in the evening, at night or during periods of inactivity
  • Involuntary jerking of the limbs during sleep and, sometimes, during wakefulness
  • Difficulty staying or falling asleep, which leads to feeling tired or fatigued during the day.

For people who suspect they have RLS, Dr. Verma recommends one of the first things you can do is to avoid alcohol, caffeine and tobacco, which can contribute to or aggravate the problem.