DEAR DR. GOTT: I suffer from restless-legs syndrome and have tried the soap-under-the-sheet treatment without experiencing relief. I am now using Excedrin during the day and 20 milligrams OxyContin at night, when the pain in my legs gets so bad I can't get rid of it. I even get up and take hot baths or ride my bicycle to get some relief. This does help a little but not for long.
I know that OxyContin is addictive, but I don't know what else to do. I have seen neurologists, rheumatologists and orthopedic doctors. I am 81 years old, and the specialists say I am not a candidate for surgery. To complicate things, I have spinal stenosis and bulging discs. I've had the restless-leg problem for years, but the problem gets bigger as time goes by.
DEAR READER: You raise several pertinent health issues.
First, the soap therapy. I have repeatedly confirmed readers' experiences that this treatment is useful in preventing nocturnal leg cramps, but it is NOT an effective option for restless legs syndrome, a puzzling ailment for which there is now a prescription medication, Requip, that shows great promise. Ask your doctor to consider this choice, which is safer than OxyContin.
Second, your "bulging discs" should be addressed. If the discs are out of position and pressing on spinal nerves, you will need further testing (with an MRI) and have to consider surgery. Before that tough decision, you might try epidural steroid injections (cortisone shots into the affected areas), acupuncture, chiropractic treatment, TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) for pain and aggressive physical therapy.
Third, the list of medicines you are on, 22 in number, is staggering and raises the concern that some of your symptoms might be due to chemical interaction. I have chosen not to print this list for valid reasons of privacy but, as a physician, I am stunned that an 81-year-old woman under the direction of her physician has chosen to stress her metabolism like this.
I urge you to meet with your family physician and encourage him or her to refer you to an appropriate back-pain specialist, review your medications and insist that several of your medicines be eliminated. Nobody, and I mean nobody, needs to take 22 prescription drugs a day. No one has the power or the knowledge to identify the very real prospect of negative drug interactions; the risk increases geometrically the more drugs you take.
To give you related information, I am sending you copies of my Health Reports "Consumer Tips on Medicines" and "Managing Chronic Pain." Other readers who would like copies should send a long, self-addressed, stamped envelope and $2 for each report to Newsletter, PO Box 167, Wickliffe, OH 44092-0167. Be sure to mention the title(s).