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Leg Cramps

Leg cramps occur in most cases at night, and cause feelings of tightness and pain. In some cases, they can prevent or disrupt sleep.

Treatments for leg cramps are not available through our site. For more guidance, we recommend you speak to your GP.

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Quinine Sulphate

Quinine Sulphate

  1. Effective medication for leg cramps
  2. Relieve interrupted sleep patterns caused by this
  3. Simple to take

Leg cramps are characterised by feelings of tightness and pain in the leg muscles. Most commonly, this will be felt in the calf muscles, but may be experienced in the feet and thighs too. These feelings may continue for anything between a few seconds and ten minutes. Afterwards, discomfort and a tender sensation may still be present for a number of hours. Roughly three quarters of all instances occur at night.

Most of the time, leg cramps will occur infrequently and not require treatment. However, where they persist or where someone experiences cramp for more than 10 minutes, advice from a doctor should be sought. In cases where a patient’s sleeping pattern is being interrupted on a regular basis, treatment may be able to help.

There are two types of leg cramps: primary, or idiopathic leg cramps; and secondary. Whereas idiopathic leg cramps have no underlying cause, secondary leg cramps are the result of another condition. This might be liver disease, which can cause levels of toxins in the blood to become raised, sending the muscles into spasm; dehydration, where muscle spasms are caused by a drop in salt in the body; infections; or neurological conditions. In cases where an underlying condition is resulting in muscle cramps, a doctor will treat this and other symptoms by addressing condition responsible.

Idiopathic leg cramps are those which are not seemingly caused by any underlying illness such as those described above. We still don’t yet fully understand why they occur, but several reasons have been theorised, including: abnormal nerve function during sleep; abrupt disturbances in the the supply of blood to an affected region; or shortening of the tendons as we get older.

Performing certain exercises can help to alleviate symptoms when in progress, or prevent them from occurring. Your doctor may suggest getting up and walking around on your heels to reduce feelings of tightness, or straightening the leg out and bending your foot at the ankle, pointing the toes upward.

Where these measures are not sufficient however, medication may be recommended if leg cramps are significantly inhibiting a person’s capacity to sleep. In Quinine, the functioning substance is a drug called quinine sulphate, which works on muscle receptors in the legs. This prevents them from becoming too stimulated by nerve impulses and reduces cramping.

Please note this medication is not available through our site. Contact your GP if you have leg cramps and want to find out more about treatment.

Page last reviewed:  13/06/2018
Types of Treatment

How nocturnal leg cramping is treated will depend largely on how frequently symptoms occur and the cause of the condition.

If symptoms are the result of an underlying medical issue (secondary cases), such as liver disease or a neurological condition, then a doctor will first address these when treating leg cramps.

Many cases of primary or idiopathic nocturnal leg cramps are treatable with certain exercises. Walking around on the heels of the feet, or straightening the leg out and raising the toes towards the shins, are examples of motions which can relieve cramp when in progress. Other exercises can also be performed during the day to help prevent the likelihood of cramp occurring.

In those instances where symptoms are not alleviated through these exercises, or when pain and discomfort is causing sleep disruption, medication may be prescribed in the form of Quinine tablets.

How do they work?

The active ingredient in these tablets is thought to work by reducing the sensitivity of receptors in leg muscles to nerve impulses. In doing this, the medicine prevents the spasming of muscles and prevents cramping.

What are the side effects?

Several side effects have been associated with Quinine, including headache, abdominal pain and hot flushes. A detailed account of these can be located the patient information leaflets supplied.

Can I take them with other medications?

Tell your doctor during consultation about any other treatments you are currently using, as there are several which may interfere with the function of Quinine.

Page last reviewed:  13/06/2018
Question and Answers

What’s the difference between the medications?

Presently there is only one treatment available to buy specifically for leg cramps in the UK. Quinine works by reducing the sensitivity of muscle cell receptors to nerve signals.

In some cases, pain relief such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can be used to treat the pain which follows a cramping episode, but this will not prevent cramps from occurring.

Should I take Quinine?

It depends mostly on the nature of your symptoms. Your doctor will help you find a suitable medication.

Infrequent leg cramps will usually not require medical intervention, and many cases of primary nocturnal leg cramps can be prevented through undertaking certain leg exercises. Secondary cases can also be alleviated through treatment of the condition causing symptoms.

However, if idiopathic leg cramps are present, and are causing sleeping patterns to become disrupted, then Quinine may be a treatment option.

Are there different side effects?

There are several side effects which have been associated with Quinine, and these include headaches, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, flushing, dizziness and abdominal pain. Refer to the relevant product leaflet for more information.

Is it right for me?

Make an appointment with your GP to find out. Your doctor will assess your condition, and issue a prescription where necessary.

We do not offer treatments for leg cramps through our site.

Page last reviewed:  13/06/2018

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This content was reviewed by a clinician on

13 June 2018
dr daniel

Dr Daniel Atkinson

(GP Clinical Lead - GMC No. 4624794) 13 June 2018
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