A muscle cramp can cause a great degree of discomfort to an individual, particularly so if it is severe and comes at night. It can be recurrent at times, adding further to the agony. There are many causes for muscle cramps to occur. The problem could be related to an internal disease manifesting as muscle cramps.

What is a muscle cramp?

It is an involuntary contraction of a muscle. Any muscle of the body can be affected. The contraction of the leg muscle is more pronounced and can lead to anxiety and discomfort. Though generally harm-less, the involved muscle undergoes sustained contraction, making it impossible to use. Muscle cramps can usually be treated at home with self-care measures.

What are the symptoms?

Muscle cramps develop in the calf muscle. There could be a sudden sharp pain. You might also see or feel a lump beneath the skin. This may remain for a few minutes and subside on its own.
In that case, when to see a doctor? Muscle cramps generally may not require medical care. They may disappear on their own. However, you need to see your doctor if they come up frequently, are severe enough, are associated with leg swelling and redness or skin changes. If muscle cramps are associated with muscle weakness, happen too frequently and do not improve with self-care. If they are not associated with obvious causes of leg exercises or dehydration, then further evaluation is necessary.

What are the main causes of muscle cramps?

Overuse of muscles by strenuous exercises, dehydration are some causes. Most of the muscle cramps are harmless, though sometimes they may indicate an underlying medical illness.

What about muscle cramps and reduced blood supply to your legs?

This is a matter of concern, Narrowing of the arteries supplying blood to your legs can be responsible. This may happen in the elderly as an ageing process. ln addition, individuals with hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol levels have a greater risk of having muscle cramps in the legs due to reduced blood supply.

What about smoking and tobacco?

Both can be deleterious and may increase the chances of muscle cramps. Individuals may experience cramps in the leg muscles on walking and feel better about resting. This is known as intermitting tent claudication. This can be further aggravated by having high blood sugar and high blood pressure. High cholesterol levels also contribute to the reduced blood supply to the legs, eventually causing leg cramps.

What about other medical conditions?

Dehydration, dengue, and other viral fevers, low thyroid hormone as in hypothyroidism, vitamins B12 and D deficiency, local cellulitis, deep vein thrombosis can all lead to muscle pain, particularly in the calf. Statins are drugs used to reduce cholesterol levels. They are known to cause cramps in the legs at times. They should not be discontinued unless recommended by your doctor:

How are these muscle cramps treated?

Home remedies like a gentle massage, applying ice-cold packs, proper hydration are necessary. At times, Paracetamol, or a muscle relaxant, is suggested. Some are given vitamin E, though there is no strong clinical evidence in its favour In case there is no improvement, your doctor will ask for check-ups for anaemia, diabetes, thyroid deficiency, liver and kidney functions and Vitamin 812 and D 3 levels. Sometimes a vascular Doppler to check your arteries and veins is done. Rarely, a primary muscle disease can cause leg cramps. Muscle cramps are not uncommon. Every person suffers from it sometimes or the other. Cramps in the calf muscles can be disturbing. Home remedies generally work. However, the underlying medical condition needs to be evaluated and properly treated in case the cramps do not subside.

Categories : Health

Dr Jay Deshmukh is Chief Physician and Director, Sunflower Hospital, Nagpur Honorary Physician to Honorable Governor of Maharashtra and PondicherryCentral. Dr Jay Deshmukh is an M.B.B.S., M.C.P.S., F.C.P.S., M.N.A.M.S., MD From Internal Medicine – Bombay and New Delhi.

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