- What Is It?
- What Happens?
- How to Stop It
What are nocturnal leg cramps?
Nocturnal leg cramps, also known as sleep-related leg cramps or charley horse, are sudden, painful muscle contractions occurring at night that can disturb sleep. It usually affects the calf or foot and may last for several seconds to minutes. Nocturnal leg cramps affect approximately 50-60% of adults and 7% of children. The prevalence of nocturnal leg cramps increases with age, and older women are more susceptible to leg cramps.
What happens when you get leg cramps at night?
Nocturnal leg cramps occur while you are fast asleep. It makes your leg muscles tight and sore, and you may find it difficult to fall asleep. The frequency of leg cramps depends on the person—yearly, monthly, weekly, or nightly. Pregnant women may also be affected by nocturnal leg cramps due to the strained muscle caused by excess weight.
What causes leg cramps?
Usually, there would be no cause for leg cramps, that is, they are idiopathic; however, some cases of leg cramps may be symptoms or complications of a more serious health condition (secondary). Idiopathic causes of leg cramps include:
- Nerve damage (seen in spinal disease, diabetes, and kidney disorders)
- Restriction in blood supply
- Vigorous physical exercise
Secondary causes of leg cramps include:
- Prolonged sitting
- Overuse of muscles
- Improper seating position
- Living or working on concrete floors
- Flat feet
- Hypermobile joints
- Parkinson’s disease
- Myopathies (muscle weakness due to dysfunction of the muscle fiber)
- Excessive fluid loss
- Hypoglycemia (decreased blood sugar level)
- Excessive alcohol drinking
- Osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease)
- Kidney failure
- Heart diseases
- Liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver)
- Hypokalemia (low potassium levels in the blood)
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (progressive neuromuscular disease)
Which medications may cause leg cramps?
Prescription medications can cause leg cramps. Medicines that may cause leg cramps as a side effect include:
- Neurontin (Gabapentin)
- Conjugated estrogens
- Klonopin (Clonazepam)
- Naprosyn (Naproxen)
- Lyrica (Pregabalin)
- Ambien (Zolpidem)
- Combivent (Albuterol/Ipratropium)
Others may include:
- Parlodel (Bromocriptine)
- Wellbutrin (Bupropion)
- Celebrex (Celecoxib)
- Zyrtec (Cetirizine)
- Sensipar (Cinacalcet)
- Cipro (Ciprofloxacin)
- Celexa (Citalopram)
- Aricept (Donepezil)
- Lunesta (Eszopiclone)
- Prozac (Fluoxetine)
- Intravenous (IV) iron sucrose
- Prevacid (Lansoprazole)
How to stop nocturnal leg cramps?
Leg cramps cannot be stopped instantly with injections or pills. Although some methods can be useful to relieve the same, which include the following:
- Stretch the affected muscle
- Massage the sole of your leg
- Apply ice or heat to the affected area
- Use a heating pad
- Try to walk
- Grab your toes and pull them toward you
How to prevent nocturnal leg cramps?
Few measures, when taken on time, can prevent nocturnal leg cramps, which include the following:
- Drinking six to eight glasses of water every day
- Sleeping with legs elevated and using pillows to keep your legs elevated
- Stretching your leg muscles gently before going to sleep
- Performing exercises to strengthen your leg muscles
- Wearing proper-fitting shoes to support your feet
- Stretching your legs before and after an exercise
- Walking on a treadmill or riding a bicycle for a few minutes
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