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AARP The Magazine

9 Common Ailments That Drive You Crazy

How to manage leg cramps, dry eye, cold sores and more

Everyday Nuisances That Drive You Crazy

— Ryan Snook

4. Leg Cramps

What they are: Sudden muscle contractions in your leg or foot that last from a few seconds to a few minutes. The cramps often happen at night, causing you to wake in excruciating pain.

The reason: No one knows exactly what causes cramps in otherwise healthy adults, but certain risk factors may make older people more susceptible. These include deficiencies in key minerals, lack of hydration, poor muscle conditioning and certain medications.

The remedy: Stretching and massage to loosen your muscles may help prevent a cramp and provide relief if you're having one. Applying a hot washcloth can also calm the muscle. Studies have linked leg cramps to low levels of potassium, calcium and magnesium. So make sure your diet includes bananas, oranges, brown rice, almonds, avocados and spinach, which contain these nutrients. Staying hydrated and wearing comfortable shoes can help, too. If you take a diuretic for hypertension or statins for high blood cholesterol, ask your doctor about possible alternatives.

5. Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS)

What it is: A neurological condition that triggers an unbearable urge to move the legs. Symptoms — not quite pain but severe discomfort, pinching or pulling that's only partially relieved by movement — usually strike most when you're lying down, often interfering with sleep.

The reason: Nobody knows the cause, though heredity plays a role, as does a drop in iron levels and the level of dopamine in the brain. Certain medications, including antidepressants and antihistamines, can trigger symptoms — even if you've been taking them for some time with no ill effects. Some chronic diseases, like diabetes and peripheral neuropathy, also can play a role.

The remedy: If you suspect a medication may be to blame, talk to your doctor about switching drugs. For mild RLS, over-the-counter pain relievers can help. So can lifestyle changes such as gentle exercise, hot baths or yoga stretches before bed. Medications that treat Parkinson's or sleep disorders sometimes provide relief, although it can take time and patience to find the one that works for you.

Everyday Nuisances That Drive You Crazy

— Ryan Snook

6. Smelly Feet

What it is: Exactly what you think.

The reason: Feet have many thousands of sweat glands, and footwear provides the perfect breeding ground for odor-causing bacteria.

The remedy: Air out your shoes 24 hours between wearings. Wash and dry your feet daily. Look for mesh athletic shoes, which provide good ventilation. For leather shoes, dab antiperspirant deodorant on your feet or spray it into shoes. A spritz of a disinfectant spray — or a sprinkle of cornstarch or antifungal/antibacterial powder — may also do the trick. In extreme cases, some doctors recommend Botox injections, which temporarily halt the function of the sweat glands, says Cleveland Clinic podiatrist Georgeanne Botek, D.P.M.

Next page: Urinary incontinence. »

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