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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 4, 2023.

What is rhabdomyolysis?

Rhabdomyolysis is a condition where injured muscles release harmful substances into the bloodstream. These substances include potassium, phosphate, creatinine kinase, and myoglobin. Large amounts of these substances may damage your kidneys and other organs.

What causes rhabdomyolysis?

  • Conditions , such as seizures, severe asthma, and infections. Excessive vomiting or diarrhea, diabetes, or problems of hyperthyroidism (thyroid storm) may also injure your muscles.
  • Temperature extremes , such as hyperthermia (very high body temperature) or hypothermia (very low body temperature).
  • Extreme muscular activity , such as running marathons, can cause muscle stress and injury.
  • Medicines or harmful substances , such as antidepressants or cholesterol medicine may injury your muscles. An overdose of aspirin or diuretics may cause an electrolyte imbalance and muscle injury. Alcohol and illegal drugs such as amphetamines, opiates, ecstasy, and LSD can also cause muscle injury.
  • Trauma to the muscles, such as a crushing injury, electrical shock, or severe burns, can cause rhabdomyolysis.

What are the signs and symptoms of rhabdomyolysis?

  • Pain, swelling, bruising, or weakness in your legs, arms, or lower back
  • Dark-colored urine, blood in the urine, or passing little or no urine at all
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Confusion or easy irritation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Trouble breathing

How is rhabdomyolysis diagnosed?

  • Blood and urine tests may show damage to your kidneys and liver. These tests may also show which substances are released by your injured muscles.
  • A CT or MRI may show the muscle injuries or changes. You may be given contrast liquid to help the muscles show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • A biopsy from your muscle may show which substances are being released. This can help healthcare providers plan your treatment.

How is rhabdomyolysis treated?

  • Large amounts of IV fluid help flush substances through your kidneys. Medicines may be added to the fluid to help flush out harmful substances and get rid of extra fluid. Medicines may also help reduce the acidity of your urine.
  • Dialysis cleans your blood when your kidneys cannot. Extra water, chemicals, and waste products are removed from your blood by a dialyzer or dialysis machine. The dialysis machine does this by passing your blood through a special filter, then returning it back to you.
  • A blood transfusion is when you are given whole or parts of blood through an IV. Blood is tested for diseases, such as hepatitis and HIV, to be sure it is safe.
  • Fasciotomy is surgery to cut tissues that cover your muscles. This decreases pressure on blood vessels and nerves caused by swelling of the injured muscle.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Drink liquids as directed. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. Drink more liquids if you are doing strenuous work, exercise, and if it is warm outside. Liquids help flush substances from your body.
  • Do not drink alcohol. Heavy alcohol use may increase your risk for rhabdomyolysis.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • Your urine is dark or tea-colored or has blood in it.
  • You have pain, swelling, or weakness in your arms or legs that does not go away or gets worse.
  • You are urinating less than usual or not able to urinate.
  • You have chest pain.
  • Your heart is beating faster than usual or has a strange rhythm.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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