Leg cramps are painful contractions of the leg muscles; the incidence of leg cramps increases with age. Often there is no official cause for the leg spasms; however, there are conditions or medications that can cause them. If the leg cramps become persistent, a doctor's visit may be needed to determine the cause. Some of these conditions occur in both men and women, but some causes of leg cramps occur only in women.
According to the 2008 version of Danforth's Obstetrics and Gynecology by Ronald S. Gibbs and colleagues, almost 50 percent of pregnant women develop lower leg cramps. These are most common during the night and usually occur during the third trimester. There is no scientifically proven treatment or prevention for these cramps, but massage or stretching the muscle can alleviate the symptoms.
Significant exercise can cause leg cramps in women; these leg cramps are often caused by a pooling of blood in the lower leg, according to the 2002 Women's Fitness Program Development book by Ann F. Cowlin. These cramps may also be caused by imbalances in calcium and potassium levels. Appropriate cool-down stretches after exercising can prevent the development of these kinds of leg cramps.
Hormones changes can cause leg cramps in women. Women who take oral contraceptives can experience leg cramps at night according to the Mayo Clinic. Also a possible symptom of hormone replacement therapy is leg cramps according to the Cleveland Clinic website.
Women with certain medical conditions like kidney failure, heart failure, arthritis or low calcium levels can experience leg cramps, according to the 2001 book "100 Questions About Sleep and Sleep Disorders" by Sudhansu Chokroverty. Thyroid disease and Parkinson's disease can cause leg cramps as well.
Medications like diuretics that help produce urine such as hydrochlorothiazide and lipid-lowering drugs like statins can cause leg cramps in women. Beta blockers such as atenolol and ACE inhibitors like captopril can cause leg cramps as well, according to a 2006 presentation by Molly Hackett.
Is This an Emergency?
- American Academy of Sleep Medicine: Leg Cramps
- Mayo Clinic: Night leg cramps
- "Nocturnal Leg Cramps"; Molly Hackett; 2006.
- The Cleveland Clinic: Hormone Therapy: Frequently Asked Questions
- 100 Questions about Sleep and Sleep Disorders; Sudhansu Chokroverty; 2001.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Restless legs syndrome and related disorders