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Definition

Rhabdomyolysis occurs when skeletal muscles are damaged and release myoglobin into the bloodstream. Myoglobin is an iron-containing pigment that can cause severe damage to the kidneys.

Causes

Rhabdomyolysis results from any condition that causes significant muscle damage. These include:

  • Excessive muscle activity
  • Certain muscle diseases
  • Severe muscle injuries, such as a crush injury
  • Overuse of alcohol or illicit drugs
  • Uncontrolled seizure disorder
  • Hypothermia
  • Contact with an electrical current
  • Toxins, such as snake or spider venom
  • Extensive surgical procedures using large, muscle-dividing incisions—rare
Risk Factors

Factors that may increase the risk of muscle damage include:

  • Extreme exertion, such as running a marathon
  • Heat stroke
  • Use of some prescription drugs
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Severe seizures or convulsions
Symptoms

The most common symptoms include:

  • Dark urine—brown or red in color
  • Muscle pain
  • Muscle weakness

Other symptoms include:

  • Muscle swelling
  • Back pain
  • Nausea and vomiting

In severe cases, rhabdomyolysis may result in:

  • Kidney damage or failure
  • Multi-organ failure
  • Abnormal heartbeat, also known as arrhythmia

Anatomy of the Kidney

Glomerulonephritis

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:

Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Urine tests
  • Blood tests

The activity of your muscles and heart may be tested. This can be done with:

Treatment

Treatment may include:

Hydration

Giving large amounts of fluid is the main treatment. Fluids are usually given by IV. Hydration helps to quickly flush myoglobin out of the kidneys to restore their function.

Medication

Bicarbonate may be used to minimize myoglobin's toxic effects.

Dialysis

Dialysis is a procedure that uses an artificial kidney machine to filter blood. The clean blood is then returned to your body.

Prevention

Steps for prevention include:

  • Drink plenty of fluids when:
    • Exercising
    • Sitting or working in hot, humid weather
  • Avoid overuse of alcohol
  • Avoid illicit drugs

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians
http://familydoctor.org

National Kidney Foundation
http://www.kidney.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

The Kidney Foundation of Canada
http://www.kidney.ca

References:

Criddle L. Rhabdomyolysis. Crit Care Nurse . 2003 Dec 23(6):14-30.

Rhabdomyolysis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com. Updated October 28, 2012. Accessed July 15, 2013.

Sauret J, Marinides G. Rhabdomyolysis. Am Fam Physician . 2002 Mar 1:65(5):907-913.



Last reviewed July 2013 by Adrienne Carmack, MD; Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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