Rhabdomyolysis occurs when skeletal muscles are damaged and release myoglobin into the bloodstream. Myoglobin is an iron-containing pigment that can cause severe damage to the kidneys.
Rhabdomyolysis results from any condition that causes significant muscle damage. These include:
Excessive muscle activityCertain muscle diseasesSevere muscle injuries, such as a crush injuryOveruse of alcohol
illicit drugsUncontrolled seizure disorderHypothermiaContact with an electrical currentToxins, such as snake or spider venomExtensive surgical procedures using large, muscle-dividing incisions—rare
Factors that may increase your chance of muscle damage include: Extreme exertion, such as running a marathonHeat strokeUse of some prescription drugsAlcohol or drug abuse
The most common symptoms include: Dark urine—brown or red in colorMuscle painMuscle weakness
Other symptoms include: Muscle swellingBack painNausea and vomiting
In severe cases, rhabdomyolysis may result in: Kidney damage or failureMulti-organ failure
Abnormal heartbeat, also known as
Anatomy of the Kidney
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The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with: Urine testsBlood tests
The activity of your muscles and heart may be tested. This can be done with: Electromyography (EMG)
Treatment may include:
Giving large amounts of fluid is the main treatment. Fluids are usually given by IV. Hydration helps to quickly flush myoglobin out of the kidneys to restore their function.
Bicarbonate may be used to minimize myoglobin's toxic effects.
is a procedure that uses a machine to filter blood when the kidneys are not functioning. The clean blood is then returned to your body.
To reduce your chance of muscle damage and rhabdomyolysis:
Drink plenty of fluids when:
ExercisingSitting or working in hot, humid weatherDrink alcohol in moderation—maximum of two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for womenAvoid illicit drugs
Rhabdomyolysis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 28, 2012. Accessed July 15, 2013.
Sauret JM, Marinides G, Wang GK. Rhabdomyolysis.
Am Fam Physician. 2002:65(5):907-913.
Torres PA, Helmstetter JA, Kaye AM, Kaye AD. Rhabdomyolysis: Pathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment. Ochsner J. 2015;15(1):58-69.
Last reviewed May 2015 by Adrienne Carmack, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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