Should I Take Quinine for Leg Cramps?

Mild side effects, such as headache and dizziness, have been reported when taking quinine to relieve leg cramps.
Some users have reported side effects after using quinine, which is formulated to treat malaria, to ease leg cramps.
Quinine is derived from the bark of the cinchona tree.
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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2014
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Quinine is a medication that is formulated to treat a potentially life-threatening medical condition known as malaria. This medication has also been used for several years to treat painful leg cramps, particularly those that occur at night. The use of quinine for leg cramps is known as an off-label usage because quinine is not formulated to specifically treat leg cramps. There have been many reports of negative side effects stemming from the use of quinine for this purpose, ranging from relatively mild side effects such as nausea or ringing in the ears to more severe side effects such as heart attacks or strokes.

While many patients have reported positive results from the use of quinine for leg cramps, there have been such significant reports of harmful side effects, including death, for which reason many medical professionals are no longer willing to prescribe it. As medical technology continues to advance, safer treatments for leg cramps are becoming available, reducing the need to consider using this medication.

Some patients have reported only mild concerns when taking quinine for leg cramps. These side effects may include headaches, nausea, or dizziness. A mild rash may be present in some cases, or the patient may experience occasional ringing in the ears. These side effects may not be enough to warrant changing medications. Unfortunately, there have been many reports of much more serious side effects.

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Heart attacks and strokes are among the most serious potential side effects of using quinine. A condition known as thrombocytopenia has also been reported. This is a medical condition in which the body does not make enough platelets, the portion of the blood responsible for clotting. This decrease in platelet production may lead bleeding disorders or even hemorrhage. Without prompt medical treatment, the patient suffering from this side effect may bleed to death.

Quinine has been shown to interact negatively with many other types of medication. The patient who considers taking quinine for leg cramps should be sure to tell his or her healthcare provider about all medications that are being taken, whether they are over-the-counter, prescription, or herbal medications. Hearing loss, kidney failure, and liver failure have also been reported as possible side effects of taking medications containing quinine. There have been many lawsuits filed by patients or surviving family members relating to the use of this medicine, so any patient who has suffered any of these side effects may want to consider contacting an attorney for legal advice.

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Discuss this Article

sweetPeas
Post 9

I have read that an alternative treatment for leg cramps is quinine water or tonic water - a drink which has some quinine in it. It's used to make a gin and tonic drink. Tonic water has a lot less quinine in it than the medicine, but if you drink too much, you may get side effects. it's best to check with your doctor.

It might be wise to try to get at the root cause of the leg cramps and correct it. They might be caused by a deficiency of calcium,magnesium and phosphorus. You might not be warming up enough before exercising,or you might not be drinking enough fluid.

A doctor or nutritionist might be able to help you discover what is causing the cramps and finding out how to correct the problems in a natural way.

BabaB
Post 8

It's too bad that more research wasn't done on the use of quinine as a treatment for leg cramps. I can see why there are law suits. I certainly wouldn't have taken the risk if I suffered from legs cramps at night. The serious side effects are terrible and the minor ones are irritating enough. It's a good thing that quinine has been banned by the FDA for use as a treatment for leg cramps.

Does anyone know if they still use quinine for its intended use - malaria? I would think that those with malaria would have the same risk of side effects as those treated for leg cramps. Maybe in the case of malaria, the seriousness of the disease outweighs the risks of taking quinine.

runner101
Post 7

I am sure leg cramps are painful and a nuisance to go through, especially when you are trying to get a few peaceful hours of rest before another chaotic day, but it seems like the side effects of taking Quinine for leg cramps is far more worse than leg cramps.

Any drug prescribed for typically smaller problems, as in ones non-life threatening, should probably have side-effects that are non-life-threatening as well. It seems like you are almost playing Russian roulette if you take Quinine for leg cramps.

I hope that there are some other drugs out there to help people with leg cramps that do not have such serious side effects. If there is not, I would rather live with the pain of leg cramps, rather than possibly mess up my internal organs and even death as potential side effects.

If doctors are not prescribing Quinine for leg cramps anymore, and the FDA is against it, I would say that is a telling sign at how dangerous this drug is. In this drugs case, it seems like the cons far outweigh the pros, so please stay away from this drug if you are taking it just for leg cramps.

starrynight
Post 6

@JessicaLynn - The fact that the FDA argues against this practice does say something. However, I think the other evidence also speaks against using quinine for leg cramps. Just look at all those possible side effects!

Anyway, quinine has actually been used for several other "off-label" uses over the years. In fact, people used to believe quinine could help induce abortion. This actually isn't true, and quinine is perfectly safe for pregnant women (well, not safe, but just as safe as it is for anyone else!)

JessicaLynn
Post 5

I really don't think taking quinine for leg cramps is worth the risk. One of the potential side effects is death! If I had to choose between death and leg cramps, I would choose leg cramps for sure.

Also, the FDA has specifically prohibited doctors from prescribing quinine for leg cramps. I think that should really tell you something. Like don't use quinine for leg cramps!

I can see taking quinine for malaria, which is life threatening. But not for something like leg cramps.

nextcorrea
Post 4

@MrSmirnov - Do you think it is the tonic water or the splash of vodka that is helping you sleep LOL. Just kidding. Maybe I am reading too much into your name.

I am actually in the same boat as you. I suffered from leg cramps for a number of years and it began to effect my sleep. I would wake up in the middle of the night with horrible cramps and have to walk around for a while to get them loosened up.

I got a prescription for quinine from my doctor and it worked immediately. I was so relieved and I had no side effects. But a few years ago he sad that he could no longer prescribe the drug and recommended that I try a glass of tonic water instead. It seems to work just as well. My legs fee great and I sleep all the way through the night.

MrSmirnov
Post 3

There is actually a way to get quinine for leg cramps these days, even if you can't get a prescription. While there are those that would argue that quinine isn't worth the risk, you can still drink tonic water for leg cramps.

Quinine water for leg cramps isn't dangerous in my opinion, and I find drinking the tonic has really helped me sleep better at night. There may be a lot of confusion as to whether quinine and leg cramps go together, but I think a bit of tonic water in your diet is an easy way to find out if quinine works for you. Just don't go overboard on the gin and tonics!

drtroubles
Post 2

@letshearit - There are numerous natural solutions for night leg cramps, and most of them require you to make some changes in your diet. The first thing you need to do is drink plenty of water, as what causes leg cramps can something be dehydration.

Another thing you can try is increasing your intake of potassium and calcium. If you are deficient in either there is a good chance that you'll suffer from muscle cramps. I like to snack on bananas and take a calcium supplement to make sure I am getting enough of both.

Lastly, try to wear good shoes. You would be surprised how many cramps can be traced back to poor footwear choice.

letshearit
Post 1

Are there any alternatives to quinine for leg cramps in bed? I get the worst leg cramps at night and I really need something that will help and doesn't have horrible side effects.

My nighttime leg cramps starts about a year ago and they are severe enough that sometimes I wake up in quite a lot of pain. It is usually the back of my thighs and calves that experience the worst cramping and my doctor has sent me for quite a few tests, though no hint to my leg cramps cause so far. I honestly think that I just need something natural, and am pretty much willing to do anything to make the cramps go away.

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