Purpose of review:
Strategies to mitigate muscle cramps are a top research priority for patients receiving hemodialysis. As hypomagnesemia is a possible risk factor for cramping, we reviewed the literature to better understand the physiology of cramping as well as the epidemiology of hypomagnesemia and muscle cramps. We also sought to review the evidence from interventional studies on the effect of oral and dialysate magnesium-based therapies on muscle cramps.
Sources of information:
We searched for relevant articles in major bibliographic databases including MEDLINE and EMBASE. The methodological quality of interventional studies was assessed using a modified version of the Downs and Blacks criteria checklist.
The etiology of muscle cramps in patients receiving hemodialysis is poorly understood and there are no clear evidence-based prevention or treatment strategies. Several factors may play a role including a low concentration of serum magnesium. The prevalence of hypomagnesemia (concentration of <0.7 mmol/L) in patients receiving hemodialysis ranges from 10% to 20%. Causes of hypomagnesemia include a low dietary intake of magnesium, use of medications that inhibit magnesium absorption (eg, proton pump inhibitors), increased magnesium excretion (eg, high-dose loop diuretics), and a low concentration of dialysate magnesium. Dialysate magnesium concentrations of ≤0.5 mmol/L may be associated with a decrease in serum magnesium concentration over time. Preliminary evidence from observational and interventional studies suggests a higher dialysate magnesium concentration will raise serum magnesium concentrations and may reduce the frequency and severity of muscle cramps. However, the quality of evidence supporting this benefit is limited, and larger, multicenter clinical trials are needed to further determine if magnesium-based therapy can reduce muscle cramps in patients receiving hemodialysis. In studies conducted to date, increasing the concentration of dialysate magnesium appears to be well-tolerated and is associated with a low risk of symptomatic hypermagnesemia.
Few interventional studies have examined the effect of magnesium-based therapy on muscle cramps in patients receiving hemodialysis and most were nonrandomized, pre-post study designs.