Rhabdomyolysis

Rhabdomyolysis is a process in which dying muscle cells cause the toxic buildup of certain substances in the blood, such as 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:

  • Severe muscle injury, such as that caused by prolonged pressure on muscle tissue, heat exhaustion, extreme physical exertion, seizures, and electrical burns.
  • Medications, such as statins, salicylates, gemfibrozil, phenothiazines, corticosteroids, and phenytoin.
  • Toxins, such as alcohol, cocaine, hornet stings, snakebites, and carbon monoxide.
  • Salmonella and infections such as influenza, Legionnaires' disease, and blood infections caused by gram-negative bacteria.

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 medications. 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.

Last Updated: July 11, 2008

Author: Robin Parks, MS

Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD - Cardiology

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