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Leg Cramps at Night – Causes and Treatment

Written by Dr.Mary

Nighttime leg cramps are painful and sudden contractions of leg muscles that are involuntary. In many cases, these cramps involve the muscles of the calf but feet or thigh muscles may also cramp. The risk of developing leg cramps increases with age. Women who are pregnant also have a high risk of having leg cramps at night.


Causes of Leg Cramps at Night

The majority of cases of nighttime leg cramps have no recognized cause and they are harmless. But, in some rare circumstances, the cramps may be linked with some underlying disorder, for instance diabetes or peripheral artery disease.

Nighttime leg cramps are occasionally mixed up with restless leg syndrome but RLS is a distinct condition and pain is not a noticeable feature. Still, restless leg syndrome can be an issue in individuals having nighttime leg cramps.

Other problems that might at times be linked with leg cramps at night can include:

Metabolic problems

  • Addison’s disease
  • Cirrhosis
  • Alcoholism
  • Type-1 diabetes
  • Type-2 diabetes
  • Chronic kidney failure
  • Hypothyroidism or thyroid that is underactive

Structure problems

  • Flatfeet
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Peripheral artery disease or PAD

Medications

  • Oral contraceptives
  • Blood pressure drugs
  • Diuretics

Other conditions

  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Pregnancy

For many individuals, nighttime cramps in the leg are just an annoyance – just something that jars you awake on an occasional basis. But in several cases, a physician may need to be seen.

Seek medical attention immediately if you:

  • Experience persistent cramping that is severe
  • Leg cramps develop after being exposed to a toxin such as lead

Schedule a visit to your physician if you:

  • Have problems functioning during the day due to leg cramps interrupting your sleep
  • Muscle weakness as well as atrophy develops along with the cramps

Leg Cramps at Night Treatment

In recent years, the injections of botulism toxin or Botox have been used with success for some of the dystonic muscle disorders that are local to a limited group of muscles. A response that is good might last for several months and the injection can then be repeated.

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Treatment of cramps which are linked with specific medical problems usually focuses on treating the underlying problems. Often, additional medications specifically for cramps are prescribed with some of these conditions.

Now, if leg cramps are frequent, persistent, severe, respond poorly to treatments that are simple, or are not linked with an obvious cause, then the individual and their primary care physician need to think about the possibility that more intense treatment is needed or that the cramps are caused by another as yet undiagnosed disease.

These diseases or problems can include:

  • Circulation
  • Nerves
  • Hormones
  • Medication
  • Nutrition
  • Metabolism

It is very uncommon to have cramps in the leg muscle due to a medical problem without obviously other signs or symptoms being present.

Self-care

Activities that could help to prevent nighttime leg cramps include:

  • Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids
  • Wearing shoes with proper support
  • Stretching the leg muscles or riding a stationary bicycle for several minutes before going to bed
  • Un-tucking the covers of the bed at the foot of the bed

Activities which might help to relieve leg cramps when occurring include:

  • Flexing foot up towards the head
  • Massaging the muscle that is cramping with hand or use ice
  • Jiggling or walking the leg
  • Taking a warm bath or hot shower

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