Q. I was bothered with severe leg cramps for several months. I tried home remedies such as soap in my bed, tonic water and bananas, but they didn’t help.
At last I found out I was severely anemic with a hemoglobin of 5. You may want to warn readers that this is a possibility if they are also tired and short of breath as I was. I was given 2 units of blood as soon as I was diagnosed and am now on iron supplements as well as eating more iron-rich foods. I have had no leg cramps at all since starting treatment.

A. Thank you for the note of caution. There is research linking iron deficiency to restless legs syndrome (Presse Medicale, online, March 22, 2010) and to pica (Journal of Medical Case Reports, March 12, 2010). Pica is a condition in which people feel compelled to eat non-food items such as laundry starch or ice.
We could not find any studies showing that taking iron supplements could alleviate nighttime leg cramps. We appreciate you bringing this to our attention.

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  1. sasi
    Reply

    Touch Iron Metals while night leg cramp.
    I got severe night leg cramp for years, but once in a month, but yesterday when I touch my window iron like rod, my leg cramp immediately stopped. any idea on that, its true.
    what causes my night leg cramp? worried a bit.

  2. Amelia
    Reply

    I accidentally discovered that taking extra iron during my pregnancy stopped my leg cramps. I was taking them because my iron was low and a few days after I added them to my daily routine, I noticed that the nightly leg cramps went away. It’s been a few weeks now. a few days ago, I skipped two days of iron and I woke up with the worst cramp I’ve ever had. I’m back on the iron again and so far, no more cramps.

  3. Kelly
    Reply

    Just needed to reply to Amy’s comment above, where she cautioned about high iron levels. Storage levels of iron have the greatest influence on iron absorption. Iron absorption increases when body stores are low. When iron stores are high, absorption decreases to help protect against toxic effects of iron overload.
    The body is smarter than we think it is… :)

  4. RAM
    Reply

    I went to the doctor 8 years ago for arm cramps. Now it is both arms and a leg, usually the worst at night. Turns out my Ferritin is extremely low. They injected me with some iron thing (I don’t ask many questions when they propose an alleviation to the pain, call it desperation) and it cured my pain for four blessed days until my body worked through it. Now I’m starting iron supplements. It was a fantastic four days! Make sure to get your ferritin checked! Your iron may be fine but without ferritin your body doesn’t do anything with it.

  5. Pam
    Reply

    A few years back I had been getting severe leg cramps and extremely tired. When I went to donate blood my iron was to low for me to donate. The nurse suggested I might want my doctor to check it. I said I just had blood work and was waiting to hear the results.
    I don’t remember my count, it was low and the doctor put me on an iron supplement. Very quickly my cramps stopped, I figured it had something to do with my iron deficiency. Recently when I had ran out of pills I kept forgetting to pick some up and started cramping again. Started taking the iron again and went away. When this first happened years ago I thought that was weird. I had heard lack of potassium and water were probably the problem.

  6. Emily
    Reply

    Cramping spasms in the muscles running up the front of my lower legs was a really painful problem – found it impossible to stretch them out. Getting out of a chair, going for walks or the slightest movement in bed could cause these.
    Despite eating a healthy diet I was diagnosed as iron deficient with a hemaglobin count of 8.5 and was prescribed ferrous fumarate – a form of iron supplement. Since taking this, cramps have disappeared after suffering with pain that would have me leaping out of bed and hurpling to the kitchen for a hot water bottle – the usual remedy.
    Am convinced this is the reason as it’s too much of a coincidence that the taking of one should synchronize with the disappearance of the other.

  7. jenny
    Reply

    This makes sense. Since being a teenager I would get pretty severe leg cramps at night waking myself up after inadvertently stretching my leg which would then have my calf go into a cramp, about once a month. I always blamed myself, walking too much, not stretching, etc. I also happen to be pretty chronically iron deficient from heavy periods.
    There was a period where I wasn’t bothered by it as much (which happened to be when I was on birth control). However while having my kids they came back. A little over a year ago I decided to go back on birth control to reduce my heavy periods, and no leg cramps. Weird.

  8. Amanda
    Reply

    I have never heard of leg cramping with iron deficiency. It is more common with low iron or low potassium

  9. A.T.
    Reply

    I had severe leg cramps at night or early in the morning, getting up from bed was a daily challenge. Attacks were so severe, that I would suffer for 10-20 minutes without being able to move. For several months I am taking Iron Sulphate to treat iron deficiency and I noticed that I have less problems with cramps. Hope this is helpful.

  10. Gene
    Reply

    My wife suffered from Restless Leg Syndrome and kept me awake kicking field goals. A little research led to the info that an iron deficiency was a possible cause. A daily morning bowl of Total cereal (several chains have less expensive house brands) has totally cured the RLS.
    The Total (or generic brands) have 100% of the daily requirement of iron. Cream of Wheat (Farina) is high in iron containing 50% of the daily requirement.

  11. Evelyn J.
    Reply

    I have had problems with leg cramps but no longer now that I take calcium supplements. Increasing calcium in the diet can make a difference.
    I’d like to share a remedy that I learned about that gets rid of leg cramps in minutes. I read this in “Dear Abby” years ago. It was submitted by a man in his 70’s. He said to take a brown paper bag (lunch bag size) and cup the open end around the nose and mouth and breathe in an out until the pain disappears (maybe 5 minutes). It worked every time!

  12. Amy M
    Reply

    Just a note of caution– always do proper testing before supplementing iron! Iron overload is also a major problem because so many foods are fortified and people take iron without really needing it. Also a high iron level carries many of the same symptoms as low, especially fatigue, and high iron will damage organs and cause severe health consequences including heart disease and liver failure. Before supplementing iron be sure to not only have hemoglobin tested but also ferritin, serum iron, TIBC and transferrin saturation. Only if these tests indicate iron deficiency should you supplement, and only with the guidance of your physician.

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