Leg Cramps and Diabetes

What is the relationship between diabetes and cramps in the lower limbs? Plenty! Diabetes is a condition caused by an increase in blood sugar (blood glucose). This results in increased urine output for the diabetic patient, also called polyuria in medical parlance. A substantial amount of electrolytes like sodium, potassium and magnesium are excreted in this increased urine loss. This causes an imbalance in the diabetic patient’s electrolyte levels in the blood. Hypokalemia or reduced potassium levels triggers increased irritability of the skeletal muscle fibers with resultant muscle spasms and leg cramps. Perhaps, another cause of leg cramps in diabetic patients is diabetic neuropathy. Long term diabetes causes substantial damage to the peripheral nerves, making the nerve fibers susceptible to being increasingly irritable which results in leg cramps. It is also believed that arteriopathy, damage to the arteries to the lower limbs, also contributes to the process of leg cramps.  It is not one factor alone, but a combination of all these pathologies that contributes to increased incidence of painful muscle spasms in diabetics. Low calcium levels are also believed to play a role in such patients. In children, diabetes may increase the tendency for leg cramps along with what is called as growing pains.

What are the main complaints of diabetic patients related to leg cramps?

Usually the diabetic complains of getting painful cramps that awaken him or her during sleep. Theses are called nocturnal cramps and can cause severe sleep loss for the patient. In advanced and long term diabetes, the pain element might be absent due destruction of the pain fibers of the neurons or nerve cells.

How does one prevent leg cramps in diabetes?

Much thought and research has gone into this field. Experts say that the best way is to increase consumption of food rich in potassium such as oranges, cantaloupes, sweet potatoes, and fruits. In fact, the most common and cheapest source of potassium may be bananas. In addition, regular checking of the blood electrolyte levels may serve as advance warning to the patient of leg cramps.

Regular use of potassium supplements may be required as well as changes in diet. Many doctors recommend the intake of about 3 doses of liquid potassium supplements per day. It is also advisable to use Morton Salt Substitute as an emergency medicine to be taken during cramps. The dose advisable in patients is 1/8 teaspoon of Morton’s salt substitute with plenty of water. One test for low potassium levels is as follows: take 1/8th teaspoon of Morton’s salt substitute with a large amount of water. If the patient feels better within 20 minutes of taking this dose, then he/she is suffering from low potassium levels (hypokalemia). Such patients may benefit from 2 to 3 doses of liquid potassium daily. Never consume more than 1/8th teaspoon of Morton’s salt. However it must be emphasized that self medication is not advisable. Any medicine must be taken after proper medical consultation with a doctor or physician.

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