Find information on thousands of medical conditions and prescription drugs.


Rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of skeletal muscle due to injury, either mechanical, physical or chemical. The principal result of this process is acute renal failure due to accumulation of muscle breakdown products in the bloodstream, several of which are injurous to the kidney. more...

Gastroesophageal reflux...
Rasmussen's encephalitis
Raynaud's phenomenon
Reactive arthritis
Reactive hypoglycemia
Reflex sympathetic...
Regional enteritis
Reiter's Syndrome
Renal agenesis
Renal artery stenosis
Renal calculi
Renal cell carcinoma
Renal cell carcinoma
Renal cell carcinoma
Renal failure
Renal osteodystrophy
Renal tubular acidosis
Repetitive strain injury
Respiratory acidosis
Restless legs syndrome
Retinitis pigmentosa
Retrolental fibroplasia
Retroperitoneal fibrosis
Rett syndrome
Reye's syndrome
Rh disease
Rheumatic fever
Rheumatoid arthritis
Rift Valley fever
Rocky Mountain spotted fever
Romano-Ward syndrome
Roseola infantum
Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome
Rumination disorder

Treatment is with intravenous fluids, and dialysis if necessary.


The injury that leads to rhabdomyolysis can be due to mechanical, physical and chemical causes:

  • mechanical: crush trauma, excessive exertion, intractable convulsions, choreoathetosis, surgery, compression by a tourniquet left for too long, local muscle compression due to comatose states, compartment syndrome, rigidity due to neuroleptic malignant syndrome
  • physical: high fever or hyperthermia, electric current
  • chemical: metabolic disorders, anoxia of the muscle (e.g. Bywaters' syndrome, toxin- and drug-related; various animal toxins, some antibiotics, methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) better known as ecstasy, statins, alcohol

Drug-induced rhabdomyolysis appears to be increasing in incidencepossibly due to the introduction of increasingly potent drugs into clinical practice. Any drug which directly or indirectly impairs the production or use of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) by skeletal muscle, or increases energy requirements so as to exceed ATP production, can cause rhabdomyolysis (Larbi 1998).


Severe cases of rhabdomyolysis often result in myoglobinuria, a condition where the myoglobin from muscle breakdown spills into the urine, making it dark, or "tea colored" (myoglobin contains heme, like hemoglobin, giving muscle tissue its characteristic red color). This condition can cause serious kidney damage in severe cases. The injured muscle also leaks potassium, leading to hyperkalemia, which may cause fatal disruptions in heart rhythm. In addition, myoglobin is metabolically degraded into potentially toxic substances for the kidneys. Massive skeletal muscle necrosis may further aggravate the situation, by reducing plasma volumes and leading to shock and reduced bloodflow to the kidneys.


The diagnosis is typically made when an abnormal renal function and elevated creatine kinase and potassium levels are observed in a patient. To distinguish the causes, a careful medication history is considered useful. Testing for myoglobin levels in blood and urine is rarely performed due to its cost.

Clinical sequelae

  • Hypovolemia (sequestration of plasma water within injured myocytes)
  • Hyperkalemia (release of cellular potassium into circulation)
  • Metabolic acidosis (release of cellular phosphate and sulfate)
  • Acute renal failure (nephrotoxic effects of liberated myocyte components)
  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC)
  • Hypocalcemia (low calcium levels due to precipitation with phosphate), followed by hypercalcemia (as renal function recovers)


[List your site here Free!]

From American Family Physician, 3/1/02 by John M. Sauret

Rhabdomyolysis is a potentially life-threatening syndrome resulting from the breakdown of skeletal muscle fibers with leakage of muscle contents into the circulation. The most common causes are crush injury, overexertion, alcohol abuse and certain medicines and toxic substances. Several inherited genetic disorders, such as McArdle's disease and Duchenne's muscular dystrophy, are predisposing factors for the syndrome. Clinical features are often nonspecific, and tea-colored urine is usually the first clue to the presence of rhabdomyolysis. Screening may be performed with a urine dipstick in combination with urine microscopy. A positive urine myoglobin test provides supportive evidence. Multiple complications can occur and are classified as early or late. Early complications include severe hyperkalemia that causes cardiac arrhythmia and arrest. The most serious late complication is acute renal failure, which occurs in approximately 15 percent of patients with the syndrome. Early recognition of rhabdomyolysis and prompt management of complications are crucial to a successful outcome. (Am Fam Physician 2002;65:907-12. Copyright[C] 2002 American Academy of Family Physicians.)

Rhabdomyolysis, which literally means striated muscle dissolution or disintegration,(1) is a potentially lethal clinical and biochemical syndrome.(2) Approximately 26,000 cases of rhabdomyolysis are reported annually in the United States.(3) Prompt recognition and early intervention are vital. Full recovery can be expected with early diagnosis and treatment of the many complications that can develop in patients with this syndrome.

Clinical features of rhabdomyolysis may be absent initially, and its most serious complication, acute renal failure, is common. Many patients develop dialysis-dependent acute renal failure associated with the misuse of alcohol or other drugs.(4) The nephrotoxicity of myoglobin is decreased by forced alkaline diuresis. Critically ill patients with acute renal failure are also likely to develop multiorgan failure syndrome, with a resultant increase in mortality.(5)


Muscle injury, regardless of mechanism, results in a cascade of events that leads to leakage of extracellular calcium ions into the intracellular space.(6) The excess calcium causes a pathologic interaction of actin and myosin that ends in muscle destruction and fiber necrosis (Figure 1).

With muscle injury, large quantities of potassium, phosphate, myoglobin, creatine kinase (CK) and urate leak into the circulation. Under physiologic circumstances, the plasma concentration of myoglobin is very low (0 to 0.003 mg per dL). If more than 100 g of skeletal muscle is damaged, serum haptoglobin binding capacity becomes saturated.(6) The circulating myoglobin becomes "free" and is filtered by the kidneys. Myoglobin in the renal glomerular filtrate can precipitate and cause renal tubular obstruction, leading to renal damage.

Etiology and Risk Factors

Several investigators(7,8) have attempted to categorize the many diverse causes and risk factors for rhabdomyolysis. The most common causes are alcohol abuse,(9) muscle overexertion,(10) muscle compression(11) and the use of certain medications or illicit drugs.(12-15) Medications and toxic substances that increase the risk of rhabdomyolysis are listed in Table 1.

Other significant causes of rhabdomyolysis include electrical shock injury(16) and crush injury. In crush injury, rhabdomyolysis occurs because of the release of necrotic muscle material into the circulation after compression is relieved in, for example, persons trapped in crashed cars or collapsed buildings. Heatstroke(17) and sporting activities,(18) especially in previously untrained persons, are also common causes of the syndrome. Heat dissipation impairment(18) from wearing heavy sports equipment or exercising in humid, warm weather increases the risk of rhabdomyolysis. Traumatic, heat-related, ischemic and exertional causes of rhabdomyolysis are listed in Table 2.

Numerous infectious and inflammatory processes can lead to rhabdomyolysis. Certain metabolic and endocrinologic disorders can also increase the risk of developing the syndrome. These processes and disorders are listed in Table 3. The cause of rhabdomyolysis can be obscure. In this situation, genetic etiologies should be considered (Table 4). A genetic disorder should be suspected in patients who have recurrent rhabdomyolysis after minimal to moderate exertion or after viral infections starting in childhood.

Clinical Presentation

Many clinical features of rhabdomyolysis are nonspecific, and the course of the syndrome varies depending on the underlying condition. The syndrome has local and systemic features, and early or late complications may occur. Prompt recognition of rhabdomyolysis is critical to preventing late complications.

Screening may be performed with a urine dipstick test.(10) The orthotoluidine portion of the dipstick turns blue in the presence of hemoglobin or myoglobin. Positive urine "blood" can be used as a surrogate marker for myoglobin if freshly spun sediment of urine shows no red blood cells. In this setting, a serum sample with normal color indicates myoglobinuria, whereas a pigmented brown or red serum sample indicates hemoglobinuria.

In ambiguous cases, clinical suspicion of rhabdomyolysis is confirmed by a positive urine or serum test for myoglobin. Because it takes several days to obtain results, neither test should be relied on in making therapeutic decisions.

Clinical features of rhabdomyolysis are listed in Table 5. Local signs and symptoms may include muscle pain, tenderness and swelling. Systemic features may include tea-colored urine, which is usually the first sign, along with fever and malaise.

When a genetic disorder is suspected, forearm ischemic testing can be used to help differentiate among possible inherited causes (Table 6).(19) A muscle biopsy with histochemical analysis is necessary to determine the specific cause of a genetic myopathy.


Forearm Ischemic Test to Differentiate Genetic Causes of Rhabdomyolysis


1. Draw a blood sample from the antecubital vein for use in obtaining baseline ammonia and lactic acid levels.

2. Inflate the sphygmomanometer cuff to above 200 mm Hg. (Because this pressure is greater than the systolic pressure, ischemia is created.)

3. After the cuff is inflated, have the patient perform repeated hand-grip exercises to fatigue the forearm.

4. Remove the cuff and draw serial blood samples from the antecubital vein to obtain ammonia and lactic acid levels. Interpretation

A minimal rise or no rise in the lactic acid level suggests McArdle's disease or another disorder of carbohydrate metabolism (see Table 4).

A slow rise or no rise in the ammonia level points to the diagnosis of myoadenylate deaminase deficiency.

A normal rise in ammonia and lactic acid levels indicates the presence of a disorder of lipid metabolism.

Information from Sinkeler SP, Wevers RA, Joosten EM, Binkhorst RA, Oei LT, Van't Hof MA, et al. Improvement of screening in exertional myalgia with a standardized ischemic forearm test. Muscle Nerve 1986;9:731-7.


The complications of rhabdomyolysis can be classified as early or late (Table 7). Severe hyperkalemia may occur secondary to massive muscle breakdown, causing cardiac arrhythmia and, possibly, cardiac arrest. Hypocalcemia is another early complication that can be potentiated by the release of large amounts of phosphate from the lysed muscle cells. Hepatic dysfunction occurs in approximately 25 percent of patients with rhabdomyolysis.(20) Proteases released from injured muscle may be implicated in hepatic inflammation.

Acute renal failure and diffuse intravascular coagulation are late complications of rhabdomyolysis (i.e., past 12 to 24 hours). Acute renal failure, the more serious complication, develops in up to 15 percent of patients(21) and is associated with high morbidity and mortality. Renal damage results from the mechanical obstruction of tubules by myoglobin precipitation, the direct toxic effect of free chelatable iron on tubules, and hypovolemia. In addition, the release of vasoactive kinins from muscle may interfere with renal hemodynamics. There is a loose predictive correlation between CK levels and the development of acute renal failure, with levels higher than 16,000 units per L more likely to be associated with renal failure.(21) The rate at which serum creatinine levels increase is typically faster in patients with myoglobinuric renal failure (up to 2.5 mg per dL per day [220 [micro]mol per L]) than in those with other causes of acute renal failure.

Disseminated intravascular coagulation may develop in patients with rhabdomyolysis. This complication is usually worse on the third to fifth day of presentation. Prompt recognition and vigorous treatment of the underlying cause is necessary.

Compartment syndrome may be an early or late complication, resulting mainly from direct muscle injury or vigorous muscle activity. This complication occurs primarily in muscles whose expansion is limited by tight fascia, such as the anterior tibial muscles. Peripheral pulses may still be palpable, in which case nerve deficits (mainly sensory) are more important findings. A delay of more than six hours in diagnosing this complication can lead to irreversible muscle damage or death. Decompressive fasciotomy should be considered if the compartment pressure is greater than 30 mm Hg.(22)


The treatment of rhabdomyolysis is primarily directed at preserving renal function. Up to 12 L of fluid may be sequestered in the necrotic muscle tissues, thereby contributing to hypovolemia, which is one cause of renal failure in patients with rhabdomyolysis.(23)

Intravenous (IV) hydration must be initiated as early as possible. In the patient with a crush injury, IV fluids should be started even before the trapped limb is freed and decompressed, and certainly no later than six hours after decompression. The longer it takes for rehydration to be initiated, the more likely it is that oliguric renal failure (less than 500 mL of urine per day) or anuric renal failure (less than 50 mL of urine per day) will be established.(23) Investigators in one study(24) found that forced diuresis within the first six hours of admission prevented all episodes of acute renal failure.

Initially, normal saline should be given at a rate of 1.5 L per hour. Urine output should be maintained at 300 mL per hour until myoglobinuria has ceased. High rates of IV fluid administration should be used at least until the CK level decreases to or below 1,000 units per L. If these measures successfully thwart the development of oliguria, the patient can be switched to 0.45 percent saline with the addition of one or two ampules of sodium bicarbonate (40 mEq) and 10 g per L of mannitol. Diuretics (loop or other types) should not be used because they do not improve, and may actually compromise, the final renal outcome.

The objectives are to alkalinize urine to a pH of greater than 6.5 (thereby decreasing the toxicity of myoglobin to the tubules) and to enhance the flushing of myoglobin casts from renal tubules by means of osmotic diuresis. However, these measures should not be employed if oliguria is established despite initial generous hydration with normal saline. The use of mannitol remains controversial as it is mostly supported by experimental animal studies and retrospective clinical studies.(25,26) In one study,(27) mannitol did not confer additional protection compared with normal saline alone. There are also some concerns about the use of sodium bicarbonate, because it may worsen hypocalcemia or precipitate calcium phosphate deposition on various tissues.(28)

Elderly patients should be treated in an intensive care unit so that vital signs, intake and hourly output can be closely monitored and fluid overload can be quickly detected. Invasive hemodynamic monitoring is critical to fine-tune treatment in patients with comorbid cardiovascular disorders or preexisting chronic renal dysfunction.

Hemodialysis may be a therapeutic modality. Despite treatment, patients with rhabdomyolysis often develop oliguric acute tubular necrosis. In this situation, hemodialysis should be started and carried on aggressively, frequently on a daily basis. If given enough time, many patients partially or completely recover renal function. The chances of recovery are obviously much higher in the absence of preexisting renal insufficiency.

Finally, initial hypocalcemia should not be corrected unless a patient is symptomatic. It is important to avoid further aggravating the hypercalcemia that commonly develops during the recovery phase of rhabdomyolysis, when calcium deposited in the injured muscles is mobilized back to the extracellular space.(29)

Figure 1 provided by Reid R. Heffner, M.D., Department of Pathology, State University of New York at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The authors thank Eileen De Biasio for assistance in the preparation of the manuscript.

The authors indicate that they do not have any conflicts of interest. Sources of funding: none reported.

JOHN M. SAURET, M.D., is clinical assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. He received his medical degree from Universidad Catolica de Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, and completed a family practice residency at Niagara Falls (N.Y.) Memorial Medical Center. Dr. Sauret is board certified in family medicine.

GEORGE MARINIDES, M.D., is clinical assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at SUNY-Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. After receiving his medical degree from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, he completed an internal medicine residency at Mercy Hospital, Buffalo, and a fellowship in nephrology at SUNY-Buffalo. Dr. Marinides is board certified in internal medicine and nephrology.

GORDON K. WANG, M.D., is a family physician at Burnt Store Family Health Center, Punta Gorda, Fla. Dr. Wang received his medical degree from the Federal University of London-St. George's Hospital Medical School at Tooting, London, U.K. He completed a residency at Frimley Park Hospital, Surrey, U.K., and a family practice residency at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center. Dr. Wang is board certified in family medicine.

Address correspondence to John M. Sauret, M.D., Department of Family Medicine, State University of New York at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Office of Research and Development, 462 Grider St., Buffalo, NY 14215 (e-mail: Reprints are not available from the authors.


(1.) Dorland's illustrated medical dictionary. 29th ed. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2000.

(2.) Abassi ZA, Hoffman A, Better OS. Acute renal failure complicating muscle crush injury. Semin Nephrol 1998;18:558-65.

(3.) Graves EJ, Gillum BS. Detailed diagnoses and procedures, National Hospital Discharge Survey, 1995. Vital Health Stat 1997;13(130):1-146.

(4.) Deighan CJ, Wong KM, McLaughlin KJ, Harden P. Rhabdomyolysis and acute renal failure resulting from alcohol and drug abuse. QJM 2000;93:29-33.

(5.) Hojs R, Ekart R, Sinkovic A, Hojs-Fabjan T. Rhabdomyolysis and acute renal failure in intensive care unit. Ren Fail 1999;21:675-84.

(6.) Knochel JP. Mechanisms of rhabdomyolysis. Curr Opin Rheumatol 1993;5:725-31.

(7.) Gabow PA, Kaehny WD, Kelleher SP. The spectrum of rhabdomyolysis. Medicine [Baltimore] 1982;61: 141-52.

(8.) Harper J. Rhabdomyolysis and myoglobinuric renal failure. Crit Care Nurse 1990;10(3):32-6.

(9.) Bessa O. Alcoholic rhabdomyolysis: a review. Conn Med 1995;59:519-21.

(10.) Line RL, Rust GS. Acute exertional rhabdomyolysis. Am Fam Physician 1995;52:502-6.

(11.) Biswas S, Gnanasekaran I, Ivatury RR, Simon R, Patel AN. Exaggerated lithotomy position-related rhabdomyolysis. Am Surg 1997;63:361-4.

(12.) Alejandro DS, Peterson J. Myoglobinuric acute renal failure in a cardiac transplant patient taking lovastatin and cyclosporine. J Am Soc Nephrol 1994;5:153-60.

(13.) Horowitz BZ, Panacek EA, Jouriles NJ. Severe rhabdomyolysis with renal failure after intranasal cocaine use. J Emerg Med 1997;15:833-7.

(14.) Dar KJ, McBrien ME. MDMA induced hyperthermia: a report of a fatality and review of current therapy. Intensive Care Med 1996;22:995-6.

(15.) Pedrozzi NE, Ramelli GP, Tomasetti R, Nobile-Buetti L, Bianchetti MG. Rhabdomyolysis and anesthesia: a report of two cases and review of the literature. Pediatr Neurol 1996;15:254-7.

(16.) Brumback RA, Feeback DL, Leech RW. Rhabdomyolysis following electrical injury. Semin Neurol 1995; 15:329-34.

(17.) Wang AY, Li PK, Lui SF, Lai KN. Renal failure and heatstroke. Ren Fail 1995;17:171-9.

(18.) Moghtader J, Brady WJ, Bonadio W. Exertional rhabdomyolysis in an adolescent athlete. Pediatr Emerg Care 1997;13:382-5.

(19.) Sinkeler SP, Wevers RA, Joosten EM, Binkhorst RA, Oei LT, Van't Hof MA, et al. Improvement of screening in exertional myalgia with a standardized ischemic forearm test. Muscle Nerve 1986;9:731-7.

(20.) Akmal M, Massry SG. Reversible hepatic dysfunction associated with rhabdomyolysis. Am J Nephrol 1990;10:49-52.

(21.) Ward MM. Factors predictive of acute renal failure in rhabdomyolysis. Arch Intern Med 1988;148:1553-7.

(22.) Schwartz JT, Brumback RJ, Lakatos R, Poka A, Bathon GH, Burgess AR. Acute compartment syndrome of the thigh. A spectrum of injury. J Bone Joint Surg [Am] 1989;71:392-400.

(23.) Odeh M. The role of reperfusion-induced injury in the pathogenesis of the crush syndrome. N Engl J Med 1991;324:1417-22.

(24.) Sinert R, Kohl L, Rainone T, Scalea T. Exercise-induced rhabdomyolysis. Ann Emerg Med 1994; 23:1301-6.

(25.) Zager RA. Rhabdomyolysis and myohemoglobinuric acute renal failure [Editorial]. Kidney Int 1996; 49:314-26.

(26.) Better OS, Rubinstein I, Winaver JM, Knochel JP. Mannitol therapy revisited (1940-1997). Kidney Int 1997;52:886-94.

(27.) Homsi E, Barreiro MF, Orlando JM, Higa EM. Prophylaxis of acute renal failure in patients with rhabdomyolysis. Ren Fail 1997;19:283-8.

(28.) Zager RA. Combined mannitol and deferoxamine therapy for myohemoglobinuric renal injury and oxidant tubular stress. Mechanistic and therapeutic implications. J Clin Invest 1992;90:711-9.

(29.) Akmal M, Bishop JE, Telfer N, Norman AW, Massry SG. Hypocalcemia and hypercalcemia in patients with rhabdomyolysis with and without acute renal failure. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1986;63:137-42.

COPYRIGHT 2002 American Academy of Family Physicians
COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

Return to Rhabdomyolysis
Home Contact Resources Exchange Links ebay