What is rhabdomyolysis?

Rhabdomyolysis is a condition that can result when injured muscle cells release chemicals into the bloodstream. The chemicals released by injured muscle cells can cause severe problems, such as:

  • Problems with blood flow
  • Kidney failure
  • Muscle swelling that is so severe that it damages muscles, nerves, and blood vessels in the swollen area if not treated right away. This is called compartment syndrome.
  • Imbalances of calcium and potassium that can cause heart problems

What is the cause?

Possible causes include:

  • Exercising much more than usual–for example, excess weightlifting, running, or a boot camp
  • Accidents that cause severe injuries, such as when your muscles are crushed
  • Heat reactions (for example, when you exercise in hot, humid weather)
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Use of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, or alcohol
  • Some prescribed medicines, such as the cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins
  • Inherited problems such as sickle cell anemia
  • Infection

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms are:

  • Muscle pain
  • Weakness
  • Brown or bloody-looking urine

Other symptoms are:

  • Muscle swelling
  • Nausea
  • Back pain

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms, activities, and medical history, and examine you. You may have urine and blood tests.

What is the treatment?

The most important part of treatment is getting more fluids into your body. You may be given fluids by mouth or IV. You may need to stay in the hospital.

If your healthcare provider thinks that a medicine caused your symptoms, the medicine will be stopped.

Your healthcare provider will check how well your kidneys are working. If your kidneys are not working, you will need dialysis (using a machine to remove waste from your blood) until your kidneys start working again.

If you have compartment syndrome, it may first be treated with rest and cold packs. If it does not get better, you may need surgery to relieve the pressure.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • If there are activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent rhabdomyolysis?

To help prevent rhabdomyolysis:

  • Exercise wisely. Gradually increase your exercise level when you start new activities that require constant use of your lower arms or legs. You may need to take more breaks while you exercise or rest between exercise sets. When it’s hot and humid, don’t increase your activity at all.
  • During exercise, drink plenty of fluids. Drink even more when it is hot and humid.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-09-30
Last reviewed: 2014-09-30
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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