Leg cramps are sudden contractions of muscles of the calves, thighs or feet. Cramps in legs that occur at night, during sleep, are particularly common. They can occur for different reasons, and their treatment usually depends on that is causing them.
Causes of leg cramps at night
The one exact cause of leg cramps, including those that occur at night, is not definitely known. However, there are several factors that are known to contribute to the onset of this problem.
Electrolyte imbalance is one of the common reasons for leg cramps. It occurs due to the loss of salt and mineral balance in the blood.
Dehydration is another major cause of leg cramps. It can occur due to insufficient fluid intake along with loss of fluids, like excessive perspiration, diarrhea, vomiting, use of diuretics, kidney failure, irritable bowel disease and other factors.
Pregnant women seem to be particularly prone to leg cramps, as this problem is often observed in pregnancy. This may be due to excess pressure on legs from increased body weight or because the enlarged uterus puts pressure to the blood vessels leading to the heart.
People who are particularly physically active during the day, like athletes and dancers, often suffer from leg cramps at night, due to increased muscle activity.
Other factors that may cause leg cramps include Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and some endocrine disorders. Medications, especially contraceptive pills and diuretics can cause it too. Older people often suffer from leg cramps due to poor blood circulation.
Treatment of leg cramps at night
In order to successfully treat leg cramps at night, one should see a doctor who will diagnose the underlying cause of this problem. He or she may order tests, like X ray or MRI and blood work too.
Electrolyte imbalance is usually solved by taking sports drinks with electrolytes and increasing the intake of salts and minerals. If leg cramps due to electrolyte imbalance persist, it is recommended to see a doctor.
Dehydration is treated simply by increasing the fluid intake, although in severe cases an IV administration of fluids may be required.
Leg cramps during pregnancy can be prevented and relieved with massage, physical therapy and moderate exercise, especially walking. Taking a 10 or 15 minutes walks every day can prevent cramps at night, and stretching legs and ankles also helps.
Athletes and people who engage in strenuous physical activity can take pain killers to relieve the pain, but only after consulting their physician.