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Rhabdomyolysis

Condition Basics

What is rhabdomyolysis?

Rhabdomyolysis (say "rab-doh-my-AH-luh-suss") is a rare but serious muscle problem. When you have it, your muscle cells break down, or dissolve. The contents of those cells leak into the blood. When it's in the blood, that material can travel to various parts of the body and cause problems.

If left untreated, this condition can be life-threatening. But when it's treated right away, most people make a full recovery.

What causes it?

Rhabdomyolysis can be caused by a variety of problems, such as:

Severe muscle injury.

This might be caused by prolonged pressure on muscle tissue, heat exhaustion, extreme physical exertion, seizures, or electrical burns.

Medicines.

Medicines that can cause this problem include statins, colchicine, phenytoin, and some natural health products.

Toxins.

Toxins are substances that are poisonous, such as alcohol, cocaine, hornet stings, snakebite, and carbon monoxide.

Certain infections.

This includes salmonella, influenza (flu), Legionnaires' disease, and some blood infections.

What are the symptoms?

Early symptoms are often hard to notice. Symptoms include:

  • Weak muscles.
  • Pain.
  • Stiffness.
  • Fever.
  • Nausea.
  • Dark-coloured urine.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and past health and do a physical examination. The diagnosis is confirmed with blood and urine tests.

How can you prevent it?

You can take steps to help prevent rhabdomyolysis from coming back.

  • Follow your doctor's advice to stop taking any medicines that may have helped cause the problem.
  • Fluids help your kidneys filter out substances that can cause problems. Make sure you're getting enough fluids, especially:
    • After strenuous exercise.
    • After any condition that may have damaged your skeletal muscles. These are muscles that help you move, walk, and lift.

If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.

Credits

Current as of: September 8, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine

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