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What Works for Leg Cramps?

Comments (7)

A reader of our Health After 50 newsletter asks, "I suffer from frequent leg cramps and I’ve heard that quinine can help. Should I consider taking it?" Here’s what Hopkins recommends.

Muscle cramps are a major problem for people with neurological illnesses such as Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis, but muscle cramps also frequently strike otherwise healthy older adults. In fact, it’s estimated that upwards of 50 percent of people older than 65 experience recurring idiopathic (without a known cause) muscle cramps. Quinine is often prescribed off-label for the treatment of muscle cramps.

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strongly recommends that people only take quinine for its indicated use -- to treat malaria. Qualaquin, the prescription form of quinine, has been associated with a number of potentially deadly side effects. Between 2005 and 2008, the FDA received 38 reports of quinine-related incidents to its Adverse Event Reporting System.

This may not seem like a lot, but the majority of cases were serious. Many of the people involved developed a condition called thrombocytopenia -- their blood platelets dropped to alarmingly low levels, causing excessive bleeding. Fourteen people had a blood platelet count below 5,000 microliters (normal is between 150,000 and 450,000); five died. A number of other adverse events also were reported, including: GI symptoms, hearing loss, rash, electrolyte imbalance, and drug interactions.

In addition, quinine is only mildly effective at stopping muscle cramps or reducing their severity, according to a recent assessment by the American Academy of Neurology (AAN). Other treatments that also fared poorly in the AAN's analysis include the antiseizure drug gabapentin (Neurontin), magnesium, and basic muscle stretching.

What might work for leg cramps? A host of potential but yet-to-be-proven candidates include muscle relaxers, calcium channel blockers, and even the numbing agent lidocaine. For now, the AAN recommends asking your doctor about B-complex vitamins, diazepam (Valium), or the antiseizure drug naftidrofuryl (Dusodril).

Posted in Healthy Living on October 20, 2010

Medical Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute for the advice of a physician. Click here for additional information: Health After 50 Disclaimer

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Health After 50 Alerts registered users may post comments and share experiences here at their own discretion. We regret that questions on individual health concerns to the editors cannot be answered in this space.

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Leg cramps can often be remedied by a magnesium supplement. I don't know why, but almost every time I drink wine, especially red wine, I get leg and/or foot cramps. Magnesium and potassium takes care of it within a few minutes.

Posted by: Anna78132 | October 23, 2010 6:07 PM

I most often get leg cramps when I don't drink enough water during the day. So I now make the effort and it has paid off.

Posted by: Kitty | October 23, 2010 7:11 PM

What works for me is: An old acupuncture trick........... Squeeze the skin together under the nose and hold it till the pain ends...good for those Charley Horses at 3am and you don't have to get up! Good luck! It ain't NO fun gettin' Old

Posted by: | October 24, 2010 10:08 AM

For me, 100mg of B1 (over and above whatever vitamins I am taking) works like a charm. The cramp usually wakes me, so I open the capsule and dump the powder in my mouth for a quick effect. so I can get back to sleep.

Posted by: | October 25, 2010 1:45 PM

For what it't worth, when I have leg or foot cramps, I have found that drinking a small drink of dill pickle juice does the trick. It was recommended to me by someone else and it works like a charm. I have no idea what is in the pickle juice that helps, and would like to know, if anyone can tell me.

Posted by: mrslee | October 28, 2010 2:59 AM

Looking at the different responses it would appear that muscle cramps can have a variety of causes.

Posted by: | November 1, 2010 4:51 PM


Tonic water has a small amount of quinine in it, so drinking it regularly would be a big help for leg and foot cramps.

Posted by: mrslee | November 1, 2010 11:06 PM

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