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Why do my legs cramp when I try to sleep?

Q: I am a 46 years old female suffering from leg cramps. Why do the sides of my leg throb when I try to sleep. Sometimes my calves cramp up really bad and my boyfriend has to stroke that part of my leg to stop the pain. I also have a history of congestive heart failure. Please suggest.

A:Leg cramps are a common medical problem and can be quite bothersome to the patient. I am assuming you mean a tightness of your calf muscles causing your toes to sometimes curl, in contrast to a feeling of restless or wanting to move the legs when resting. The latter is a completely different condition and has specific treatment available. There are no good investigations to determine the cause of leg cramps. It is believed to be due to abnormalities in sodium, potassium or magnesium levels. Of note, the blood levels are often normal. You mention you have a history of heart failure so I am presuming you are on a salt restricted diet and/or a diuretic or water pill. I have found that taking half a teaspoon of salt with 8 oz of water once a month or every second month alleviates this problem. I am unable to provide you with scientific data regarding this but this recommendation is from my observations. I realise that with heart failure, salt restriction is important as it is with several other medical conditions such as high blood pressure and kidney failure. So it is important not to exceed this amount and the frequency. If your heart failure worsens then this treatment is not for you. Until recently quinine was widely used for leg cramps - and helped some patients. However, this drug is not recommended because of adverse effects on the heart rhythm.

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