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Nocturnal Leg Cramps

Cramps are severe, involuntary muscle contractions that occur suddenly. They are mostly temporary and do not lead to serious damage.

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These muscles can cause mild to excruciating pain that can last for a few seconds, minutes and in some cases hours. One such a common condition that affects adults over the age of 50 as well as younger adults and children is nocturnal leg cramps.

What are Nocturnal Leg Cramps?

Nocturnal leg cramps are cramps that occur at night after one falls asleep or is awake with a period of inactivity. Nighttime leg cramps affect 6 in 10 adults.They are sudden contractions of the lower leg and foot muscles. These cramps are so painful, that they wake up the affected person from deep sleep.

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In most cases, the calf muscles are involved.The calf muscles may feel knotted or tight. One may even find their muscles feel sore after the cramp.

What are the Symptoms?

Symptoms of nocturnal cramps include sudden calf cramps or foot cramps. The pain varies from being mild to excruciating. Soreness is often felt after the cramps go away.

What are the Causes?

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The exact cause for nocturnal cramps is unknown. However, it is supposed to be related to the imbalance within the chemicals of the muscles. There are many activities that can lead to nocturnal cramps such as:

  • Overexerted muscles
  • Standing on concrete or hard surfaces for long time
  • Dehydration
  • Sitting for long periods
  • Certain diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, thyroid disorders, chemical imbalance, etc.
  • Use of certain medications like Statins, blood pressure medications, etc.

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Risk Factors Involved

Risk factors that increase the chances of nocturnal leg cramps include:

How is it Diagnosed?

The doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask for lab reports to check any chemical and electrolyte imbalance in the body.

How is it Treated?

When a cramp occurs, you should stretch your leg muscles. Standing on the affected leg or trying to walk also helps overcome the cramps. Massage the muscles or give it cold or hot compression to help them relax. There are no specific medications to treat nocturnal night cramps. Medications are given only in severe cases such as quinine sulfates, calcium channel blockers, etc.

One can prevent the nocturnal leg cramps by gently stretching the muscles before going to bed. One should wear proper fitted shoes and stay hydrated to prevent the cramps. If the nocturnal leg cramps are giving you a hard time falling asleep, speak to your doctor for further diagnosis.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 06, 2015