man with leg cramp, muscle cramps disappear

Q. I am devastated that quinine is no longer available. I have taken it safely for decades to reduce leg cramping, especially at night. Since I ran out and cannot get more I have a terrible time sleeping. I spend most of the night pacing the floor to work out the cramps. Why would the FDA ban quinine when it is the only thing that works?

A. Many people do well with quinine but for some it is extremely dangerous. One reader wrote:

“I took quinine for nighttime leg cramps. I was working for a physician who said quinine might help and wrote me a prescription.

“I took one pill and within a couple of hours, I was deathly ill, not knowing what was going on. My doctor sent me immediately for blood work. My liver function results were worse than my husband’s when he died from liver cancer. It took more than two weeks to get my body back on track. I would not recommend quinine to anyone.”

The FDA reasoned that since leg cramps are not life threatening but some reactions to quinine are, the benefit/risk balance did not favor the drug. There are, unfortunately, no other approved medications for leg cramps.

People with nighttime leg cramps may benefit from home remedies. Tonic water, which contains some quinine, is one option. Others include yellow mustard, low-sodium V-8 juice or soap under the bottom sheet. More details on these and many other remedies are available in our Guide to Leg Pain.

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  1. MB

    You are correct! I am drinking the “TONIC WATER” with “QUININE” and helping me a lot, also I like the taste. My Dr. told me to drink it.

  2. JRT

    I am 64 and each summer for the last ten years I have done summer fieldwork that requires climbing and hiking long distances (4-5 miles) each day over oftentimes rugged and steep terrain (mountains) in hot weather (90-100). I try to keep in shape through exercise during the rest of the year and drank lots of water (including things like Gatorade) during the fieldwork, but I still would get moderate to severe leg cramps at night for about a week each summer for the first six years when I started my fieldwork.
    I attributed the cramps to the difference between exercising at home (including walking on level ground where I live) and my muscles getting adjusted to the type of environment I worked in during the summer because after a week or so of fieldwork there were no more leg cramps. However, at the suggestion of a physiologist friend for the past four summers I always drink a glass or two of diet tonic water (8 oz or so) in the morning before leaving for the field and at least one during the day.
    To my surprise and great relief I’ve not had any leg cramps during the last four seasons, except for one time for a couple of days when I did not have any tonic water. I’ve not had any side effects at all, and am convinced that the tonic water helps prevent the legs cramps.

  3. Eagle

    Potassium supplement helps me but now have Stage 2 long- term diabetic kidney damage, and have to avoid potassium. Don’t know about magnesium.
    My first appointment with Nephrologist is couple of mo. away. Caffeine-free diet coke probably leaches out my potassium, VISIBLE cramps about every 6 wks. Starting to drink more water instead.

  4. lisa

    you can get Tonic Water and it has quinine and it will do the same thing.

  5. lp

    I too suffer from leg cramps and not just at night. I have used Quinine for many years without any adverse reaction. Every night just before I go to bed I do 10 deep knee bends and this has worked successfully for me for some time. If I get a leg cramp during the day as soon as I am able I do the ten deep knee bends and it has helped me completely. I highly recommend that it be tried by all sufferers with this problem.

  6. fbl

    Two Jigsaw Health magnesium before bedtime cured my hubby’s problem. Other magnesiums did not work.

  7. Karen

    Last summer I was drinking quinine water for leg cramps- helped a lot. However, it was a hot summer and quinine water is a very pleasant drink – about a liter a day. Went to the emergency room with atrial fibulation and great pain. No idea if the quinine water contributed, but….

  8. Kathleen M.

    For the past several months I have battled a severe lung infection that also triggered severe asthma. My doctor told me to drink large amounts of water, as much as 16 ounces per hour. I did and lo and behold, my leg cramps, which I’ve had since teen years, are much less in frequency and intensity. I am no longer awakened during the night with strong, sometimes excruciating pain. For me, staying hydrated appears to work well.

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