What is rhabdomyolysis?

Rhabdomyolysis: Overview

When you have rhabdomyolysis (say "rab-doh-my-AH-luh-suss"), dying muscle cells cause toxins to build up in the blood. If not treated, it can cause life-threatening damage to the body's organs.

It can be caused by many things, such as severe muscle injury, some medicines (like statins), the flu, and certain blood infections.

Symptoms may include weak muscles, pain, stiffness, fever, and nausea. Your urine may also be dark.

You will get treatment in the hospital. If possible, the doctor will stop the cause of muscle cell death. The doctor will take steps to protect your organs. You may have to stop taking certain medicines if they are the cause of the problem.

You will also get treatment to help the kidneys remove the toxins from your blood. This includes plenty of fluids. You may get fluids through a vein (by I.V.). You may also need dialysis.

Rhabdomyolysis

Rhabdomyolysis is a process in which dying muscle cells cause the toxic buildup of certain substances in the blood. Some of these substances are creatine, myoglobin, aldolase, potassium, and lactate dehydrogenase. Left untreated, rhabdomyolysis can cause life-threatening damage to body organs, including kidney failure.

Rhabdomyolysis can be caused by a variety of problems, including a severe muscle injury, certain medicines, toxins, or infections.

Early symptoms are often subtle. Muscle weakness, pain, tenderness, and stiffness may develop along with fever, nausea, confusion, and a general ill feeling (malaise). Urine may also be noticeably dark.

Treatment for rhabdomyolysis includes removing the cause of the muscle cell destruction whenever possible, such as by stopping certain medicines. Measures to help the kidneys remove the buildup of toxins and other chemicals, such as providing plenty of fluids, is also important. Other treatment (such as dialysis) may be needed if rhabdomyolysis is severe.

What are the symptoms of rhabdomyolysis?

Early symptoms are often hard to notice. Symptoms include:

  • Weak muscles.
  • Pain.
  • Stiffness.
  • Fever.
  • Nausea.
  • Dark-colored urine.

How is rhabdomyolysis treated?

Most people need to be treated in the hospital. If possible, the doctor will stop the cause of muscle cell death. The doctor will take steps to protect your organs. You may have to stop taking certain medicines if they are the cause of the problem.

You will also get treatment to help the kidneys remove the toxins from your blood. This includes getting plenty of fluids. You may get fluids through a vein (by I.V.). If your kidneys are badly damaged, you may also need dialysis.

How can you prevent rhabdomyolysis from coming back?

You can take steps to help prevent rhabdomyolysis from coming back.

  • Follow your doctor's advice to stop taking any medicines that may have helped cause the problem.
  • Fluids help your kidneys filter out substances that can cause problems. Make sure you're getting enough fluids, especially:
    • After strenuous exercise.
    • After any condition that may have damaged your skeletal muscles. These are muscles that help you move, walk, and lift.

If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.

How is rhabdomyolysis diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and past health and do a physical exam. The diagnosis is confirmed with blood and urine tests.

How can you care for rhabdomyolysis?

  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Talk to your doctor about whether you need to stop taking any medicines. Follow your doctor's instructions about stopping medicines.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.

What is rhabdomyolysis?

Rhabdomyolysis (say "rab-doh-my-AH-luh-suss") is a rare but serious muscle problem. When you have it, your muscle cells break down, or dissolve. The contents of those cells leak into the blood. When it's in the blood, that material can travel to various parts of the body and cause problems.

If left untreated, this condition can be life-threatening. But when it's treated right away, most people make a full recovery.

What causes rhabdomyolysis?

Rhabdomyolysis can be caused by a variety of problems, such as:

Severe muscle injury.

This might be caused by prolonged pressure on muscle tissue, heat exhaustion, extreme physical exertion, seizures, or electrical burns.

Medicines.

Medicines that can cause this problem include statins, colchicine, phenytoin, and some dietary supplements.

Toxins.

Toxins are substances that are poisonous, such as alcohol, cocaine, hornet stings, snakebite, and carbon monoxide.

Certain infections.

This includes salmonella, the flu, Legionnaires' disease, and some blood infections.

Rhabdomyolysis: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse muscle pain.
  • You have less urine than normal or no urine.
  • You have new swelling in your arms or feet.
  • You have blood in your urine.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you do not get better as expected.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.