Leg cramps: differential diagnosis and management

Am Fam Physician. 1995 Nov 1;52(6):1794-8.


Leg cramps are a common problem, especially in the elderly. The differential diagnosis is extensive and includes the following conditions: true cramps, such as those related to heat, hemodialysis and electrolyte disturbances, as well as idiopathic cramps (the most common type); contractures occurring in conditions such as metabolic myopathies and thyroid disease; tetany, which is usually related to electrolyte disturbances, and dystonias, such as occupational cramps and those related to antipsychotic medications. Other leg problems that are not cramps, such as restless legs syndrome and periodic leg movements, also must be distinguished. The etiology of idiopathic leg cramps is not clear. Treatments for leg cramps include stretching exercises, quinine sulfate and vitamin E, but no treatment is conclusively effective. Nonetheless, in many patients relief of symptoms is achieved with one or more of these treatments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Leg*
  • Muscle Cramp / drug therapy
  • Muscle Cramp / etiology*
  • Muscle Cramp / therapy*
  • Quinine / therapeutic use
  • Vitamin E / therapeutic use


  • Vitamin E
  • Quinine