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 activity
- Certain muscle diseases
- Severe muscle injuries, such as a crush injury
- Overuse of alcohol or illicit drugs
- Uncontrolled seizure disorder
- Contact with an electrical current
- Toxins, such as snake or spider venom
- Extensive surgical procedures using large, muscle-dividing incisions—rare
Factors that may increase your chance of muscle damage include:
- Extreme exertion, such as running a marathon
- Heat stroke
- Use of some prescription drugs
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Severe seizures or convulsions
The most common symptoms include:
- Dark urine—brown or red in color
- Muscle pain
- Muscle weakness
Other symptoms include:
- Muscle swelling
- Back pain
- Nausea and vomiting
In severe cases, rhabdomyolysis may result in:
- Kidney damage or failure
- Multi-organ failure
- Abnormal heartbeat, also known as arrhythmia
Anatomy of the Kidney
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 tests
- Blood tests
The activity of your muscles and heart may be tested. This can be done with:
- Electromyography (EMG)
- Electrocardiogram (EKG)
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.
Dialysis 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:
- Sitting or working in hot, humid weather
- Drink alcohol in moderation—maximum of two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women
- Avoid illicit drugs
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
National Kidney Foundation
The Kidney Foundation of Canada
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.