DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I beg you for information on leg cramps that rouse me from a sound sleep. They are unbelievably painful, and it takes me a full hour to get back to sleep. I am tired all day long. What can I do? – G.M.

Cramps are involuntary and agonizing muscle contractions. Why they happen at night is unknown, but older people commonly suffer from them. The calf muscles are the ones usually involved.

Before going to bed, stretch your calf muscles by standing about 2 feet from a wall. Keep your feet anchored at that point and lean into the wall, as if you were doing a push-up against it. Hold that position for 10 seconds. Then return to the starting position and rest for five or more seconds. Then repeat the stretch five times.

Don’t drink caffeine in the evening. That includes soft drinks that contain it.

A shortage of potassium, magnesium or calcium might be involved with nocturnal leg cramps.

When sleeping on the back, people’s feet tend to drop downward toward the mattress. That can initiate a cramp. Keeping the covers loose keeps the toes pointing to the ceiling. That’s the position you want them in all night long. Wedging a pillow between the soles of your feet and the end of the bed is another way to keep them pointing up.

This topic engenders more mail than any other, so let me give you remedies that readers say work. Putting a bar of soap, any brand, between the sheets stops cramps. I don’t know why or how it works. But many people assure me it does. Quinine used to be sold over-the-counter for muscle cramps. Now it is available only with a prescription. But half or a full bottle of tonic water contains enough quinine to stop cramps. Many people tell me so. A doctor reader says that increasing the daily intake of water eliminates cramps. For quickly terminating a cramp, pinching the skin between the nose and upper lip supposedly banishes it.

The pamphlet on restless leg syndrome and nocturnal cramps furnishes more information on these sleep-depriving disorders. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 306, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.50 U.S./$6.50 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: When I was pregnant with my last child, who is now 5, my doctor told me I had diabetes. He put me on a diet and then said nothing more about diabetes. I stopped the diet after the birth of my child. I feel wonderful. Should I be doing anything about this now? – D.D.

You had what’s called gestational diabetes. It’s a rise in blood sugar, usually in late pregnancy. Almost always it disappears after delivery.

Whether you have symptoms or not, you should tell your family doctor about this. Thirty percent to 60 percent of women who had gestational diabetes go on to develop real diabetes later in life. You need regularly scheduled lab tests to see what your blood sugar is doing.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am on Coumadin. I heard on the radio that people on Coumadin ought not to eat onions. Why? I eat onions just about every day. Should I stop? – B.J.

Something in onions thins blood. Coumadin is a blood thinner, and there is a theoretical possibility that combining the two could thin the blood too much.

I take it you have your blood checked regularly to see if it’s too thin or not thin enough. If you do – and you should – and the tests are normal, then you can forget the warning about eating onions while on blood thinners.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What is artery hardening? I used to hear about it all the time. Now I never see anything written about it or hear anything about it on radio or TV. Why? – Q.N.

You hear about it all the time. It goes by the name arteriosclerosis (are-TEAR-ee-oh-sklare-OH-suss). It happens to everyone to some degree and is responsible for heart attacks and strokes and many other ills.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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