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Leg Cramp Remedy Could Be Lethal

Q. I have been suffering with leg cramps for years and years. Recently my doctor told me about tonic water with quinine. It does help the leg cramps, but it is making me feel ill. My symptoms include fatigue, nausea and vomiting. I have been very tired and want to sleep all the time, which isn’t like me. I am desperate to try something that works without side effects.

A. Please seek immediate medical attention. You may be suffering quinine toxicity. Symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, rash, flushing, fever and fatigue.

Quinine comes from the bark of the cinchona tree. This bitter compound was used for centuries by the native people of Peru and Bolivia to fight fevers. Jesuit missionaries brought it back to Europe in the 17th century as an anti-malarial drug.

Quinine was available in the U.S. in over-the-counter and prescription products that were used for treating leg cramps. In 1994, the FDA banned OTC sale of quinine and in 2007 restricted prescription quinine exclusively for the treatment of malaria. The agency took this action because some people have life threatening responses to quinine. One reader told us:

“Quinine in tonic water proved almost fatal for me. Nighttime leg cramps have been an ongoing problem, so I bought a bottle of tonic water.

“On Saturday I had a 5-ounce glass before supper. Sunday morning by 9 am I was in the emergency room with a frightening skin reaction. I was hospitalized for many days and diagnosed with a dangerous blood disorder called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. My hematologist said it was triggered by the quinine water.”

For safer ways to treat leg cramps consider The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies, in libraries and online. This book provides details about using mustard, magnesium, pickle juice, molasses, turmeric and soap under the bottom sheet.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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