Leg cramps, also called charley horses, are involuntary muscle spasms that typically occur suddenly and for no apparent reason. They often happen at night and can be excruciatingly painful -- painful enough to wake you out of a sound sleep. Leg cramps can occur in those who have peripheral artery disease and nerve compression in the lumbar spine, but those who take diuretic medication, or water pills, for heart failure are especially prone to getting them. Diuretic medications, such as furosemide and hydrochlorothiazide, eliminate a good deal of water from the body during the day. This can also deplete your levels of potassium, causing cramping.
Visit your doctor. Consult your physician before trying to treat leg cramps at home. Leg cramps can often be treated at home, but your physician should order some lab work to determine your exact potassium levels. If your potassium levels are low, you may be advised to take a potassium supplement and increase the amount of potassium-rich food, such as bananas, in your diet.
Take all your medication as prescribed. While diuretics such as hydrochlorothiazide and furosemide can cause depletion of potassium in the body, it is important to continue to take your medication. Heart failure causes the body to retain water, which puts an extra load on the heart and allows water to build up in the liver, lungs and extremities.
Eat one banana per day. Your doctor will advise if you need to eat more or less and whether you need to take a potassium supplement in pill form as well. Diuretics work by increasing the amount of water and sodium going into the kidneys to be excreted, according to The Harvard Family Health Guide. Potassium follows sodium, so potassium levels can become depleted. Eating bananas, which contain a good amount of potassium, is one way to help to replace lost potassium. Symptoms of low potassium include muscle cramping, weakness and irregular heartbeat.
Stretch out the cramp. Besides increasing your daily intake of potassium with bananas, stretch the muscle out and rubbing it gently to release the cramp. For a leg muscle cramp, a weight-bearing stretch is often effective. Place your weight on the leg that has the cramp, and then bend down slowly at the knee in order to get the cramp to relax. If the cramp is causing too much pain to stand, extend the affected leg straight out in front of you, grab the toes and pull the foot toward your body.
Monitor your health. Have your potassium levels checked regularly. Potassium levels that are too high can also cause problems, including an irregular heartbeat. You should strive to keep your potassium levels within the normal range by eating bananas, along with other high-potassium foods if your doctor recommends them, and by taking a potassium supplement if prescribed.
Things You'll Need
Appointment with physician