Leg cramps in the elderly: prevalence, drug and disease associations

Int J Clin Pract. 1999 Oct-Nov;53(7):494-6.


To determine the prevalence of leg cramps in elderly outpatients and their association any underlying diseases and concomitant drug intake, we conducted a cross-sectional study using an in-depth questionnaire. A total of 365 patients aged 65 years and over (mean 78.5 years) attending our outpatient clinic participated in the study. The prevalence of leg cramps was 50%. Cramps were commoner in females (56%) than in males (40%). Although reported to occur anytime throughout the 24 hours, cramps were most prevalent at night (62%). In many patients, leg cramps were a long-standing complaint: 20% had been suffering with them for more than 10 years, whereas only 9% of patients reported them first starting within the last six months. Only 73 (40%) sufferers had informed their practitioner; of these, 39 (53%) received treatment, of whom 26 gained benefit. Leg cramps were strongly associated with peripheral vascular disease (odds ratio 2.9, 95% CI 1.89-4.55, p < 0.00001), arthritis (odds ratio 2.26, 95% CI 1.48-3.45, p = 0.0001) and female gender (odds ratio 1.96, 95% CI 1.28-3.03, p = 0.002). Heart failure, hypertension, diabetes mellitus and stroke were not significantly associated. Except for a causal association with analgesic use, no positive association could be shown with any other class of drugs, including diuretics.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Analgesics / adverse effects
  • Arthritis / complications
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • England / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leg
  • Male
  • Muscle Cramp / epidemiology*
  • Muscle Cramp / etiology
  • Peripheral Vascular Diseases / complications
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Factors


  • Analgesics