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Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology
Volume 14 (2000), Suppl D, Pages 21D-25D

Muscle Cramps: A ‘Complication‘ of Cirrhosis

Paul J Marotta,1 Ivo W Graziadei,2 and Cameron N Ghent1

1Liver Unit, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada
2Division of Gastroenterology, University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria

Received 7 October 1998; Accepted 26 April 1999

Copyright © 2000 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Muscle cramps are a common complaint in clinical practice. They are associated with various metabolic, endocrine, neurological and electrolyte abnormalities. A variety of hypotheses have been generated to explain the cause of muscle cramping, yet none has been able to support a consistent pathophysiological mechanism. Muscle cramps are painful, involuntary contractions of skeletal muscle. They occur frequently in individuals with cirrhosis, regardless of the etiology, and are thought to be a symptom of cirrhotic-stage liver disease. The pathophysiology of these cramps remains elusive; hence, a specific therapy has not been identified. Many therapeutic approaches have been offered, yet their efficacy, safety and mechanism of action remain poorly defined. This review defines muscle cramps and illuminates its prevalence in the cirrhotic individual. Current theories relating to the pathogenesis of muscle cramps are reviewed, and an overview of the various pharmacological agents that have had therapeutic success for this distressing and frustrating symptom is provided.