Symptom: Night leg cramps

    Night leg cramps, also called nocturnal leg cramps, are painful, involuntary spasms, aching or contractions of muscles in your legs. In most cases, night leg cramps involve your calf muscles, but muscles in your feet or thighs may cramp as well.

    Night leg cramps

    The risk of having night leg cramps increases with age. Pregnant women also have a higher likelihood of experiencing night leg cramps.

    In rare situations, night leg cramps can be associated with an underlying disorder, such as peripheral artery disease — in which narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to your limbs — diabetes or spinal stenosis.

    Some drugs, particularly intravenous iron, estrogens and naproxen, have been linked to night leg cramps.

    Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is sometimes confused with night leg cramps, but it's a separate condition. In general, pain is not a main feature of RLS, but RLS could be the cause of night leg cramps.

    Other conditions that may sometimes be associated with night leg cramps may include:

    Structural disorders

    1. Peripheral artery disease
    2. Spinal stenosis

    Medications and procedures

    1. Blood pressure drugs
    2. Diuretics
    3. Oral contraceptives
    4. Cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins)
    5. Dialysis

    Other conditions

    1. Dehydration
    2. Diarrhea
    3. Muscle fatigue
    4. Nerve damage, as from cancer treatments
    5. Osteoarthritis
    6. Parkinson's disease
    7. Pregnancy

    Metabolic problems

    1. Addison's disease (adrenal insufficiency)
    2. Cirrhosis
    3. Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
    4. Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
    5. Chronic kidney disease
    6. Type 1 diabetes
    7. Type 2 diabetes

    Causes shown here are commonly associated with this symptom. Work with your doctor or other health care professional for an accurate diagnosis.


    Seek immediate medical care if you:

    • Experience severe and persistent cramping
    • Have night leg cramps after being exposed to a toxin, such as lead

    Schedule an office visit if you:

    • Have trouble functioning during the day because leg cramps interrupt your sleep
    • Develop muscle weakness and atrophy with leg cramps

    Activities that might help prevent night leg cramps include:

    • Drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration
    • Stretching your leg muscles or riding a stationary bicycle for a few minutes before you go to bed
    • Untucking the bed covers at the foot of your bed

    Activities that might help relieve night leg cramps include:

    • Flexing your foot up toward your head
    • Massaging the cramped muscle with your hands or with ice
    • Walking or jiggling the leg
    • Taking a hot shower or warm bath

    Although once widely used, the medication quinine is no longer recommended, as its effectiveness has not been demonstrated in carefully performed studies of people with night leg cramps.


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