Restless about RLS, drug ads

The Baltimore Sun

I find many prescription-drug commercials to be totally inappropriate, especially for kids.

I am also fed up with all these initials. ED? RLS? Who on earth ever heard of restless leg syndrome? Are they for real?

People have been complaining about restless legs for decades, but "RLS" didn't become a familiar abbreviation until a drug was developed to treat it. We agree with you that prescription-drug commercials are annoying. Only one other industrialized nation (New Zealand) permits prescription-drug advertising directly to consumers.

My mother was on Lipitor for less than two years when she developed muscle weakness and started having trouble speaking. She was initially diagnosed with primary lateral sclerosis and told to continue on her Lipitor.

Her condition deteriorated rapidly, and she ended up in a wheelchair and unable to speak. She passed away in July at age 57 from ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease.

I truly believe this was brought on by Lipitor and was fascinated to read of a connection in your column. She was in good health until she started the Lipitor, and it was the only drug she ever took.

We are sorry to learn of your mother's death. Scientists have not determined whether cholesterol-lowering drugs such as Lipitor, Crestor or Zocor can actually trigger motor neuron diseases like primary lateral sclerosis (PLS) or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

In a previous column, we reported that the World Health Organization drug-monitoring center had found an unexpected association between statins and ALS-like syndrome (Drug Safety, June 2007). Since that time, we have received dozens of heartbreaking stories similar to yours. Many people were diagnosed with PLS after developing severe muscle weakness or cramping while on cholesterol-lowering drugs. This condition is not considered fatal, but it can be incapacitating.

Others report symptoms such as stumbling, falling, slurring speech or difficulty swallowing after taking the statin-type cholesterol-lowering medicines. In many instances, the condition was diagnosed as ALS. There is no cure for this disease, which causes degeneration of muscles and nerves.

Such reactions may be reported at, where more details are available. We will forward case reports to the Food and Drug Administration for further review.

I think you do your readers a disservice by failing to mention a very old but effective cough suppressant. The pediatrician told my mother about it in 1960, and I have used it on myself and for my own children - nighttime only. I realize that this is susceptible to abuse, but used appropriately it is safe.

The recipe: equal parts bourbon, honey and lemon juice. One teaspoon for a 10-year-old, and calibrate from there.

Hot toddies and other remedies containing alcohol have been popular treatments for coughs and colds for years. Decades ago, doctors may well have recommended such remedies. Most pediatricians nowadays discourage the use of alcohol in any treatments for children. They are especially susceptible to low blood sugar after consuming alcohol.

Parents are in a quandary these days because they have been told not to use drugstore cold and cough remedies for children younger than 6. A nighttime cough, however, can keep everyone awake.

Some parents report that Vicks VapoRub on the soles of the feet can ease nighttime coughs. Tea made with thyme or fennel from the kitchen spice shelf can also calm a cough.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of this newspaper or e-mail them via their Web site:

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