New study finds high prevalence of leg cramps in primary care patients

Researchers developed and conducted a cross-sectional survey to examine the prevalence and characteristics of leg cramps in 294 primary care patients (with a mean age of 46.5 years), with 51.7% reporting leg cramps. Patients who experience resting or exercise-induced leg cramps were more likely to be older (mean age 49.1 years) and female (which comprised 69% of surveyed participants and 72% of the cohort experiencing leg cramps). Cramp severity among patients averaged 5.6 on a scale of 1-10 and disturbed sleep was "sometimes" or "often" present in 55% of patients. Most patients did not discuss cramps with their clinician. Authors recommend that clinicians should review resting leg cramps as a symptom of declining health and advancing aging. Clinicians should also be aware of the high prevalence of leg cramps to spur additional research on the physiological condition.

What we know: Primary care physicians commonly see patients experiencing leg cramps, which can cause significant distress and symptoms that can last many hours. Cramps may cause sleep disruption, reduced quality of life, and depression. Although common, there is a dearth of research about leg cramps, their prevalence, and their impact on primary care patients in the United States.

What this study adds: This study not only contributes to the development of a validated survey to identify leg cramps, it also updates information from the last major study conducted on leg cramps conducted in 1991. The new study reveals that patients don't often bring up the subject with their doctors despite having lived with leg cramps for an average of four years. The authors state that there is emerging evidence that leg cramps are a symptom of declining health, diminishing fitness, and/or advancing aging. Primary care doctors should review leg cramps, regard them as a symptom of impaired quality of life, and be active in addressing the issue as a part of optimizing healthy aging.

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