Rhabdomyolysis

Definition

Rhabdomyolysis is a breakdown of muscle tissue. This causes a protein called myoglobin to be released into the bloodstream. These proteins can cause severe damage to the kidneys.

Causes

The muscle damage may be caused by:

  • Excessive muscle activity
  • Certain muscle diseases
  • Severe muscle injuries such as a crush injury
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Uncontrolled seizure disorder
  • Body is too cold—hypothermia
  • Body is too hot—heat stroke
  • Electrical burns
  • Poison from a snake or spider bite
  • Prior surgery with large, muscle incisions—rare

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

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

Symptoms

Common problems are:

  • Urine that is brown or red in color
  • Muscle pain, weakness, or swelling
  • Back pain
  • Nausea or vomiting

Anatomy of the Kidney

Glomerulonephritis
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. This may be enough to suspect the diagnosis.

The diagnosis can be confirmed with:

  • Blood tests to look for signs of muscle damage
  • Urine tests to look for myoglobin

Treatment

The underlying cause will need to be treated. Choices are:

  • IV fluids to flush the protein out of the kidneys
  • Bicarbonate medicine to minimize the effect of the protein
  • Dialysis to filter blood when the kidneys are not working well

Prevention

There are no known guidelines to prevent this health problem.

RESOURCES:

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
https://familydoctor.org
National Kidney Foundation
https://www.kidney.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

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

References:

Rhabdomyolysis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/rhabdomyolysis. Accessed November 30, 2020.
Torres PA, Helmstetter JA, Kaye AM, Kaye AD. Rhabdomyolysis: Pathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment. Ochsner J. 2015;15(1):58-69.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 4/23/2021

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