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What causes muscle cramps?

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Posted on Mon, 11 May 2015
Question: treatment for cramps
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Answered by Dr. Panagiotis Zografakis (30 minutes later)
Brief Answer:
It depends on the cause

Detailed Answer:
Hello,

it's not easy to identify the cause in muscle cramps. Treating them is equally difficult. I'll try to present an approach to the problem.

First of all you've got to check any drugs you may be using for various reasons. Common drugs that may cause cramps include the following:
- diuretics
- nifedipine
- salbutamol and other broncho-dilators
- central nervous system drugs like phenothiazines or lithium
- statins

If no connection between drugs and cramps can be found then you've got to consider some of the following causes:
- dehydration (inadequate water ingestion or excessive water loss, for example after prolonged physical activity)
- electrolyte imbalance (potassium, magnesium, sodium, calcium) due to any condition (renal problems for example)
- untreated thyroid disease (hypo- or hyper- thyroidism)
- alcohol abuse
- neuromuscular diseases

When none of the above causes can be identified then the cramps are likely idiopathic (of unknown cause). There are some rare conditions that also cause cramps but I won't mention them here.

So there is not a single treatment that fits all the cases. It depends on the cause. The most reasonable approach is to identify the cause (if feasible) and then treat the cause.

If electrolyte disorders is the cause (for example) then the cause of this disorder has to be investigated and the electrolyte stores have to be replenished. If a specific drug seems to be the cause then alternative treatments have to be tried. Most thyroid diseases can be treated with medication... etc.

Please keep in mind that in many cases, no cause can be identified (idiopathic cramps). This means that no specific treatment can be prescribed.

A general "treatment" for cramps is stretching the muscle during the attack and stretching exercises between attacks. A properly stretched muscle seems to be less prone to cramps.
More specific advice can be given depending on the involved muscle (but not properly documented with scientific literature). For example: for night cramps on your calfs, you can put a pillow under your feet (if you're lying on your back) to prevent calf muscle shortening (your toes should be pointing upwards - not pointing away from your head), which predisposes to cramps.

I hope I've helped!
You can contact me again, if you'd like more information.

Kind Regards!
Above answer was peer-reviewed by : Dr. Chakravarthy Mazumdar
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Answered by
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Dr. Panagiotis Zografakis

Internal Medicine Specialist

Practicing since :1999

Answered : 3691 Questions

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What causes muscle cramps?

Brief Answer: It depends on the cause Detailed Answer: Hello, it's not easy to identify the cause in muscle cramps. Treating them is equally difficult. I'll try to present an approach to the problem. First of all you've got to check any drugs you may be using for various reasons. Common drugs that may cause cramps include the following: - diuretics - nifedipine - salbutamol and other broncho-dilators - central nervous system drugs like phenothiazines or lithium - statins If no connection between drugs and cramps can be found then you've got to consider some of the following causes: - dehydration (inadequate water ingestion or excessive water loss, for example after prolonged physical activity) - electrolyte imbalance (potassium, magnesium, sodium, calcium) due to any condition (renal problems for example) - untreated thyroid disease (hypo- or hyper- thyroidism) - alcohol abuse - neuromuscular diseases When none of the above causes can be identified then the cramps are likely idiopathic (of unknown cause). There are some rare conditions that also cause cramps but I won't mention them here. So there is not a single treatment that fits all the cases. It depends on the cause. The most reasonable approach is to identify the cause (if feasible) and then treat the cause. If electrolyte disorders is the cause (for example) then the cause of this disorder has to be investigated and the electrolyte stores have to be replenished. If a specific drug seems to be the cause then alternative treatments have to be tried. Most thyroid diseases can be treated with medication... etc. Please keep in mind that in many cases, no cause can be identified (idiopathic cramps). This means that no specific treatment can be prescribed. A general "treatment" for cramps is stretching the muscle during the attack and stretching exercises between attacks. A properly stretched muscle seems to be less prone to cramps. More specific advice can be given depending on the involved muscle (but not properly documented with scientific literature). For example: for night cramps on your calfs, you can put a pillow under your feet (if you're lying on your back) to prevent calf muscle shortening (your toes should be pointing upwards - not pointing away from your head), which predisposes to cramps. I hope I've helped! You can contact me again, if you'd like more information. Kind Regards!