DEAR DR. DONOHUE: For 60 years I had no trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Now when I lie down, my legs feel like they are getting a series of shocks. I have to get out of bed and move around, and then the shocks stop. What is this, and what can I do for it? It makes me tired all day. – M.S.

The thief stealing your sleep is restless leg syndrome, and you wouldn’t believe how many people it victimizes. Three percent of those from 18 to 25 have it, but with age the numbers increase. By age 80, 18 percent to 25 percent suffer from it.

Affected people complain of peculiar sensations in their legs when they lie down to sleep. Some have the trouble when they sit in a chair. They describe the sensations as feeling like something is crawling under the skin of their legs, as an itchiness, as a series of shocks or as outright pain.

To put an end to the disruptive sensations, these unfortunates have to get up and move around.

The problem does not come from the legs. It comes from the brain generating errant impulses that are responsible for the irksome sensations.

Sometimes restless leg syndrome results from an iron deficiency, and restoring iron to the body cures the problem. That, however, is limited only to a small percentage of patients. For most, no cause can be found.

Taking a hot bath and massaging the legs before lying down does away with these abnormal sensations for some. Others find that abstinence from caffeine helps.

Sinemet, a drug used for Parkinson’s disease, or Neurontin, a seizure control drug, can often control the syndrome.

Readers who suffer from restless leg syndrome or who know people who have it can find a complete discussion of the topic in the pamphlet that has recently been written on the topic. To obtain a copy, write: Dr. Donohue – No. 306, Box 536475, Orlando FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.50 U.S./$6 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: In applying for a job as a camp counselor I had to have a physical exam, blood tests and a urinalysis. The urinalysis came back saying I have proteinuria and must see my doctor. What’s the significance of this? – L.C.

Normally, there is no protein in the urine. Finding it there can indicate that the kidneys’ filtering mechanisms are not working well.

The next step will be, I am sure, to repeat the urine test. One positive test for protein might be only a fluke. Or a positive test can indicate a harmless condition called orthostatic proteinuria. It’s the appearance of protein in the urine when a person has been up and about during the day. The first voided urine specimen in the morning is protein-free because the person has been in a horizontal position all night. Orthostatic proteinuria is an oddity. It does not indicate any serious problems.

If your second test is positive, then the usual sequence is to save all urine voided in one 24-hour period. The amount of protein filtered in one day is a better indicator of kidney malfunction than a single test.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have a home blood pressure kit. The pressure in my right arm averages 128 over 60, but the pressure in my left arm averages 150 over 90. Which pressure is correct? Why the difference? – N.N.

The higher pressure is the one used as being the true blood pressure.

A difference of pressure in the arms could come from a narrowed artery supplying the arm with the lower pressure. A difference of 10 points used to be considered normal. However, recent evidence indicates that a blood pressure discrepancy of 20 points between the arms is still within the realm of normal.

Report this to your doctor, and he or she can decide if an investigation of the difference is necessary.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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