Tonic water for cramps can be fatal

Q. I have been suffering with leg cramps for years and years. Recently, my doctor told me about tonic water with quinine. It does help the leg cramps, but it is making me feel ill. My symptoms include fatigue, nausea and vomiting. I have been very tired and want to sleep all the time, which isn’t like me. I am desperate to try something that works without side effects.

A. Please seek immediate medical attention. You may be suffering quinine toxicity. Symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, rash, flushing, fever and fatigue.

Quinine comes from the bark of the cinchona tree. This bitter compound was used for centuries by the native people of Peru and Bolivia to fight fevers. Jesuit missionaries brought it back to Europe in the 17th century as an anti-malarial drug.

Quinine was available in the U.S. in over-the-counter and prescription products that were used for treating leg cramps. In 1994, the Food and Drug Administration banned OTC sale of quinine, and in 2007 restricted prescription quinine exclusively for the treatment of malaria. The agency took this action because some people have life-threatening responses to quinine. One reader told us:

“Quinine in tonic water proved almost fatal for me. Nighttime leg cramps have been an ongoing problem, so I bought a bottle of tonic water.

“On Saturday, I had a 5-ounce glass before supper. Sunday morning by 9 a.m., I was in the emergency room with a frightening skin reaction. I was hospitalized for many days and diagnosed with a dangerous blood disorder called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. My hematologist said it was triggered by the quinine water.”

Q. You have written about a drugstore product to stop bleeding. Instead of WoundSeal, we use finely ground black pepper on bleeding cuts. My old friends tell me that is what they used in World War II. It is cheap and handy, and we have used it to great effect.

A. Don’t forget first aid: Apply direct pressure on the cut for several minutes. After that, black pepper makes a great home remedy.

For those who don’t respond to black pepper on a cut, WoundSeal is a good choice. Some blood-thinning medicines (including aspirin) or supplements may make it harder to stop bleeding. Even people on such pills can benefit from WoundSeal.

Q. I have started drinking hibiscus tea. The last time I went to the doctor, my blood pressure was 10 points lower. I hate taking pills and was pleased when my doctor said, “Whatever you’re doing, keep it up!”

A. Tea made from the beautiful red flowers of Hibiscus sabdariffa is valued all around the world. In the Caribbean, it is called sorrel, and in Mexico, it is agua de Jamaica. A recent review notes that daily consumption of hibiscus-flower tea lowers blood pressure about as well as the medication captopril (Fitoterapia, March 2013). That may be because red compounds in this tea inhibit an enzyme (ACE) in a similar manner to many popular antihypertensive medicines (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Jan. 8, 2010).

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of this newspaper or email them via their Web site: Their newest book is “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”

2013 King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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