Tips For A Better Night’s Sleep #6

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Treatments for Restless Leg – Restless Limb Syndrome

In this session, I'd like to discuss some of the treatment options for restless limb syndrome. The primary treatment class of medications for this are known as dopamine agonists. This is a class of medication used primarily for the treatment of Parkinson's Disease. When using these medications for the treatment of Restless Limb Syndrome we use them in a much smaller dose than we would use for Parkinson's Disease and therefore the potential side-effects are much less

The most common drugs within this classification are Mirapex or pramipexole and ropinirole or Requip. The most common side-effects that occur when using these medications include headache or nausea, increased sleepiness or fatigue, and some patients feel drugged or have difficulties upon rising the next morning. There's a black box warning that talks about a very uncommon side-effect which is sudden uncontrollable sleep attacks. This is almost never seen in patients with Restless Limb Syndrome and has primarily occurred in patients with Parkinson's Disease who are taking vastly larger doses of this medication than patients with Restless Limb Syndrome would ever take.

In addition, there's a small incidence of an increase in compulsive behaviors; compulsive gambling, compulsive shopping, compulsive lying, compulsive sexual activity, any compulsive behavior can occur within this class of medication.

When using these drugs, we are always striving to use the lowest effective dose, so we titrate, or gradually increase the dosage until we find that it's effective with the least amount of side-effects or, hopefully, no side-effects.

The next class of medications that we use to treat restless limbs are a class of medications called anti-convulsives or neuroleptics. These drugs were initially used, as the name implies, for treating epilepsy. And just like with the dopamine agonists, if we compare it to aspirin and Tylenol, which are both used to treat fever and pain, we've found that these medications are often useful in treating other disorders, in this case, Restless Limb Syndrome. The drugs most commonly used in this class of medications include Neurontin, or gabapentin, and Lyrica, or pregabalin. More recently there has been a long acting version of gabapentin known as Horizant.

The third class of medication common in the use of Restless Limb Syndrome is a classification known as benzodiazapines. The most commonly used within this group is a medication known as Klonapin, or Clonazepam. This medication is also useful as a sleeping aid and as a treatment for anxiety. Patients with restless limbs often have insomnia and are anxious about their insomnia, and Clonazepam can be used as a supplement in the treatment of this disorder.

Another class of medication which can be useful are analgesics, in particular, opioids or narcotic medications. Many patients, and physicians as well, are reluctant to use these medications in the treatment of restless limb but they can be very effective if the dopamine agonists or neuroleptics are either not tolerated or were found to be ineffective. Sometimes we have to use multiple medications to adequately treat restless limbs including all classes that we've previously discussed.

Some patients prefer to use over-the-counter medications. While these are not always proven to be as effective, some patients will respond to simple measures such as over-the-counter analgesics like tylenol or advil. Sometimes supplements such as calcium or magnesium are also helpful and especially if we find that your blood iron levels are low or, in particular if your ferritin levels are low, the use of supplemental iron can be very effective in the treatment of restless limbs.

I hope this brief overview on the treatment of Restless Limb Syndrome has been helpful. For more information please browse this website or contact us directly for an appointment and evaluation. And always remember, sleep well tonight for a better day tomorrow.

Dr. Popper is available at (805) 557-9930 to answer any questions you have regarding diagnosis and treatment of all sleep disorders, including OSA, restless limb syndrome, insomnia, and others.

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