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Causes of Muscle Cramps

A muscle cramp happens when a muscle contracts suddenly and uncontrollably. These cramps can occur in one or more muscles at a time. Muscle cramps can be a symptom of various medical issues. They are often linked with muscle strain, but they can also be a sign of medical conditions such as liver disease or circulation problems.

Muscle cramps can interfere with your daily activities because they often happen at night which affects your sleep. As a result, they may reduce your quality of life. But in most cases, muscle cramps are not serious. Muscle cramps occur most often in the:

  • Feet
  • Legs
  • Arms
  • Hands
  • Ribcage
  • Abdomen or belly

What Causes Muscle Cramps?

Several medical conditions may contribute to cramping such as;

  • Aging: Losing muscle mass can put more strain on your muscles, and it occurs over time. As you age, these changes can lead to more frequent muscle cramps.
  • Hypothyroidism: Having a thyroid gland that is less active than normal may cause muscle cramps.
  • Dehydration: Losing body fluids while exercising can cause muscles to cramp.
  • Low electrolyte levels: Low levels of substances such as calcium or potassium in the blood can cause muscle cramps.
  • Medication: Taking certain medicines, including pseudoephedrine and statins can cause involuntary muscle cramping.
  • Pregnancy: Often, women who are pregnant experience leg cramps due to low electrolyte levels, circulation changes, and pressure on the nerves caused by the growing baby.
  • Nerve disorders: In rare cases, issues such as a pinched nerve or spinal cord injury can cause nerve compression which can lead to muscle cramps.
  • Physical strain: Overusing your muscles during exercise or strenuous activities.
  • Tight muscles: Inactivity and not enough stretching can cause muscles to contract involuntarily.

How to Diagnose Muscle Cramps?

A physical exam may be recommended if you have frequent or severe muscle cramps. When you have cramps, your doctor will feel the affected areas and move them to check for muscle issues. Your doctor may also assess your activities or work to determine the trigger.

Blood and urine tests may also be used to determine the cause of muscle cramps. It detects underlying conditions such as liver or kidney disease that can cause cramps. If leg cramps are caused by neurologic problems, your doctor may order an MRI to diagnose them.

Treatment and Medication for Muscle Cramps

Muscle cramps can usually be treated with self-care measures. You can do stretches with your doctor to reduce the likelihood of getting muscle cramps. Making sure you stay well-hydrated also can help. For recurrent cramps that disturb your sleep, your doctor might prescribe a medication to relax your muscles.

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