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
Top Leg Cramps at Night: Causes and Prevention Related Articles
acetaminophen/pamabromAcetaminophen/pamabrom is a combination medication available over the counter (OTC), used for the temporary relief of menstrual symptoms (menstrual cramps, backache, headache, other minor pains, and bloating). Common side effects of acetaminophen/pamabrom include hives (urticaria), itchy rash, hypersensitivity reactions, toxicity to the liver (hepatotoxicity), blood disorders, and others. Consult your doctor if pregnant or breastfeeding.
acetaminophen/pamabrom/pyrilamineAcetaminophen/pamabrom/pyrilamine is a combination medication available over the counter (OTC), used for the temporary relief of menstrual symptoms, including cramps, backache, headache, bloating, water-weight gain, minor aches and pains, muscular aches and irritability. Do not take concurrently or within 14 days after treatment with monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) type of antidepressant medications. Acetaminophen side effects include hives (urticaria), itchy rash, swelling, severe anaphylaxis-like allergic reaction (anaphylactoid reaction), blood disorders, and others. Pamabrom side effects include discolored urine (golden tinted). Pyrilamine side effects include blurred vision, sleepiness (sedation), and dry mouth (xerostomia).
Common Medical Abbreviations & Terms
Doctors, pharmacists, and other health-care professionals use abbreviations, acronyms, and other terminology for instructions and information in regard to a patient's health condition, prescription drugs they are to take, or medical procedures that have been ordered. There is no approved this list of common medical abbreviations, acronyms, and terminology used by doctors and other health- care professionals. You can use this list of medical abbreviations and acronyms written by our doctors the next time you can't understand what is on your prescription package, blood test results, or medical procedure orders. Examples include:
- ANED: Alive no evidence of disease. The patient arrived in the ER alive with no evidence of disease.
- ARF: Acute renal (kidney) failure
- cap: Capsule.
- CPAP: Continuous positive airway pressure. A treatment for sleep apnea.
- DJD: Degenerative joint disease. Another term for osteoarthritis.
- DM: Diabetes mellitus. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- HA: Headache
- IBD: Inflammatory bowel disease. A name for two disorders of the gastrointestinal (BI) tract, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
- JT: Joint
- N/V: Nausea or vomiting.
- p.o.: By mouth. From the Latin terminology per os.
- q.i.d.: Four times daily. As in taking a medicine four times daily.
- RA: Rheumatoid arthritis
- SOB: Shortness of breath.
- T: Temperature. Temperature is recorded as part of the physical examination. It is one of the "vital signs."
Muscle CrampsMuscle cramps are involuntarily and forcibly contracted muscles that do not relax. Extremely common, any muscles that have voluntary control, including some organs, are subject to cramp. Since there is such variety in the types of muscle cramps that can occur, many causes and preventative medications are known. Stretching is the most common way to stop or prevent most muscle cramps.
Muscle Cramps (Charley Horse) and Muscle SpasmsWhat are the differences between muscle spasms and cramps? Learn about the causes of muscle spasms and cramps (charley horse) in the calf, leg, and more.
Muscle Cramps: Foods That Help and Prevent CrampingOne way to prevent muscle cramps is to get enough of these nutrients: potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium. They’re called electrolytes, and you can find them in these foods.