There seems to be a strong association between ME/CFS and restless legs syndrome (RLS) – probably because of the way in which sleep is so frequently disrupted in this illness. But RLS can also be caused by conditions as varied as diabetes, iron-deficiency anemia, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as being a potential side-effect of a number of prescription-only drugs.
RLS symptoms are often described as unpleasant creeping, crawling, burning, itching, cramping, or tingling sensations in the legs, along with involuntary jerking movements. The symptoms usually start whilst resting and are worse later in the day or at night. There’s often an irresistible desire to move the legs and cool them down, with some relief being obtained from walking or stretching.
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Self-help strategies that sometimes help include cutting out triggers like caffeine and physical treatments such as hot or cold packs, relaxation techniques, and massage. Although various drug treatments are sometimes prescribed for more severe symptoms, they are usually of only limited value.
However, a recently reported double-blind crossover trial involving an anticonvulsant called gabapentin/Neurontin – a relatively new drug which can be very effective in the treatment of neurological type pain in ME/CFS – has demonstrated that it can improve both motor (i.e., movement) and sensory symptoms in RLS. Gabapentin also improved the quality of sleep and decreased leg movements during sleep. It was generally well tolerated by the patients (who didn’t have ME/CFS) involved in this trial.
Study reference: Neurology, 2002, 59, 1573-1579.
Dr. Charles Shepherd