Nocturnal Leg Cramps / Charlie Horses

Nocturnal Leg Cramps are just one of the many symptoms of saphenous insufficiency. While standing during the day, high venous pressures steadily produce edema fluid high in carbon dioxide and toxic cellular wastes. This accumulated fluid causes progressive aching, pain, tenderness, swelling, and heaviness as the day progresses. In the evening, leg elevation mobilizes the edema fluid, which dries out the muscle fibers and makes the legs prone to nocturnal leg cramps. When normal venous circulation is restored, nocturnal leg cramps are frequently the first symptom to resolve. Dr. Hayes at the Vein Center of North Texas has been diagnosing and solving patent’s nocturnal leg cramp issues for almost twenty years. Dr. Hayes will be glad to sit down with you and discuss how to best bring your legs back to health. Give Dr. Hayes and his expert team a call today at 903-893-0123 and let them make your terrible leg cramps just a terrible memory. 

Q: What are leg cramps?

A: Leg cramps (a.k.a.“charley horses*”) are uncontrolled muscle contractions or spasms in the calf, foot, or thigh. They typically last from a few seconds up to ten minutes, and range from a brief mild ache to an almost unbearably intense pain. They can occur rarely or become a dreaded routine. 

While leg cramps can show up anytime, they most commonly occur at night (and are called nighttime  Nocturnal Leg Cramps). They can impact a single muscle, a group of muscles, or the entire leg. Leg cramps are usually associated with a hard “ball” of muscle bulging under the skin and are frequently followed by muscle soreness for the next day or so.

Q: What causes leg cramps?

A: Modern medicine has not yet unraveled the precise mechanism responsible for leg muscle cramps. Underlying conditions associated with leg cramps include electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, fatigue, kidney disease, liver failure, and specific medications (especially diuretics). Venous insufficiency is one of the most common conditions associated with leg cramps, particularly recurrent leg cramps and nighttime leg cramps, known as nocturnal leg cramps (NLC).

Q: How common are nocturnal leg cramps?

A: The incidence of nocturnal leg cramps increases as we age, from less than ten percent of children to over fifty percent of elderly adults experiencing them. This is not surprising, given that each of the known predisposing factors become more common as people get older. 

Q: How do I find the source of my leg cramps?

A: Most causes of leg cramps such as exertion or medications are easily diagnosed or ruled out by exploring your medical history. Electrolyte imbalances, kidney disease, liver failure, etc. are easily confirmed or ruled-out by simple blood tests. If your medical history or physical examination suggests venous insufficiency, a duplex ultrasound evaluation can create images of the veins while simultaneously assessing the blood flow within the veins. 

An ultrasound examination is a noninvasive test that does not use radiation, does not require an I.V. stick or other preparation before the exam, and has no downtime afterwards. The ultrasound examination will scan for blood clots as well as abnormal veins with the poor flow patterns found in venous insufficiency and varicose veins.

Q:  Should I see a doctor for my leg cramps?

A:  If your leg cramps are more frequent than once or twice a week, they may be related to underlying medical disorders. You should probably consider visiting your regular physician for physical examination and blood tests to evaluate your electrolytes as well as the function of your liver, kidneys, heart, etc. If these laboratory investigations are not conclusive, call Dr. Clint Hayes at 903-893-0123, as venous insufficiency is perhaps the commonest easily treatable cause of recurrent nocturnal leg cramps.

Q: How is venous insufficiency usually treated?

A: If you are found to have mild to moderate venous disease, Dr. Hayes will usually recommend that you undertake conservative measures such as daily exercise, weight loss, frequent leg elevation, routine use of medical graded compression stockings, etc. If your nocturnal leg cramps and other symptoms respond adequately to this regimen, we will generally monitor your progress from t.

If you are found to have significant deterioration of your venous circulation, Dr. Hayes will likely recommend definitive treatment to restore normal circulation and alleviate your leg cramps. Treatment options include the VenaSeal™ procedure, the ClosureFast™ procedure, endovenous laser ablation (EVLA), ultrasound-guided sclerotherapy, and ambulatory phlebectomy.