Published on June 5, 2024 at 8:00 / Updated on June 21, 2024 at 8:00

Rhabdomyolysis is a condition characterized by the breakdown of certain muscle cells in the body. This causes muscle components to be released into the bloodstream.

The kidneys are organs that filter and eliminate waste from the body. They maintain an essential state of balance for the body. When a large quantity of substances is released into the bloodstream as a result of rhabdomyolysis, the kidneys may have to work harder to eliminate them. Two main complications are then possible:

  • The kidneys deteriorate because they are overloaded
  • Certain substances accumulate in the body because the kidneys can no longer filter them out

When certain substances (e.g., salts, proteins) accumulate in the blood due to muscle breakdown, there can be serious consequences. For example, an excess of potassium in the blood can lead to heart problems. However, when rhabdomyolysis is treated promptly, most people do not experience long-term repercussions.

The main symptoms of rhabdomyolysis are:

  • Muscle pain
  • Dark (reddish-brown) urine
  • Muscle weakness

Causes and triggers

Rhabdomyolysis can be caused or worsened by a variety of factors. These include:

  • Muscle injuries
  • Certain medications (e.g., statins for cholesterol)
  • Certain infections (e.g., influenza, salmonella)
  • Certain toxic substances (e.g., snake venom, carbon monoxide)
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Intense physical activity
  • Abnormally high or low body temperature (hypothermia or hyperthermia)

Treatment

The first step of treatment is to address and eliminate the cause of the rhabdomyolysis. If the patient has complications (e.g., renal failure, electrolyte imbalances), these will also be treated.

If the patient is experiencing severe renal failure, they may have to undergo dialysis, a procedure that cleans the blood via filtration. This is to prevent intoxication due to toxins in the blood that are normally eliminated by the kidneys.

As a general rule, people with rhabdomyolysis need to drink more water. This helps the kidneys eliminate waste. Hospitalization may be recommended to administer infusions and ensure proper hydration.

If you think one of your medications is causing you to develop rhabdomyolysis, talk to your pharmacist before changing your treatment.

When should I see a health care professional?

Speak with your health care provider if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Persistent muscle pain
  • Unusually dark urine
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