What Is Rhabdomyolysis: An Overview of This Deteriorating Muscular Disease

Man experiencing muscle pain

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  • When voluntary muscles become damaged due to an injury, side effects of a medication or a genetic muscular disorder, they typically leak myoglobin, a type of protein, into your bloodstream
  • When this occurs, you develop a condition known as rhabdomyolysis. Rhabdomyolysis is a disease wherein injured muscle tissue leaks proteins such as myoglobin into your bloodstream, causing various complications, most notably acute renal damage

Skeletal muscles, also known as voluntary muscles, play an important role in our daily lives. As their name implies, they are muscles that you can control on your own will to perform essential actions such as walking, standing and running. To perform movement, they are attached to your bones through special connective tissues, and are filled with blood vessels and nerves for communicating with your brain.1

But when voluntary muscles become damaged due to an injury, side effects of a medication or a genetic muscular disorder, they typically leak myoglobin, a type of protein, into your bloodstream. When this occurs, you develop a condition known as rhabdomyolysis. Myoglobin plays an important role in muscle function, as it stores oxygen that your body uses whenever you perform physically tiring activities such as sports or weightlifting. It’s also the protein that gives your muscles a red color.2

How Does Rhabdomyolysis Occur?

Rhabdomyolysis is a disease wherein injured muscle tissue leaks proteins such as myoglobin into your bloodstream, causing various complications, most notably acute renal damage. That’s because too much myoglobin causes an obstruction on your kidneys’ filtration system, which causes your urine to become dark.3

Aside from kidney damage, rhabdomyolysis produces symptoms that may be confused with other conditions. To help you discern if you have the illness, here are the most telltale symptoms to watch out for (in order of what you’ll probably notice first):4

Muscle weakness, or trouble moving your limbs

Pain in the affected muscle group

Dark-colored urine

Other symptoms that may appear include nausea, vomiting, fever, confusion, dehydration and possibly fainting.5 While it is clear that rhabdomyolysis occurs due to the breakdown of damaged muscle tissue, there are many situations or circumstances that can trigger it. Some of the most prominent examples include:6

Accidents: Patients who survive major accidents typically develop extensive muscular damage.

Prolonged immobilization: Being bedridden for long periods of time, such as when you suffer a stroke, can put pressure on the muscles pressing against the bed, cutting off blood flow and causing tissue death.

Over-exercising: Pushing yourself while exercising, such as running too far or lifting weights higher than your limit, can damage your muscles.

Medication: Cholesterol-lowering medications such as statins or fibrates usually produce muscle weakness as a side effect. Abuse of illicit drugs such as cocaine and heroin can cause weakness as well.

Diagnosing Rhabdomyolysis Accurately

Diagnosis usually begins by reviewing your current situation. Some causes are obvious and require immediate attention, such as car accidents or venomous snake bites. Other times, a careful assessment of your personal history can help the doctor determine if rhabdomyolysis is the culprit. Genetic muscular disorders or medication use fall under this category.7

If rhabdomyolysis has been determined, your doctor may need you to undergo a variety of blood and urine tests. For example, high levels of creatine kinase in your blood can indicate rhabdomyolysis, especially if you’re currently experiencing muscle pain and weakness. Dark-colored urine is a good indicator of the disease as well.8

Treating Rhabdomyolysis Depends on Its Severity

If you’re fortunate and only have a mild case of rhabdomyolysis, lifestyle changes are sufficient. Resting and proper hydration are all you need to help prevent kidney damage from occurring, as well as limiting exercising.9 Other times though, more serious measures may be required. An intravenous solution (IV) filled with special minerals may be used to counteract the potential harms caused by severe muscle damage. Electrolyte imbalances will need to be monitored and promptly treated as well.10

Rhabdomyolysis Is Fully Treatable if Acted Upon Right Away

The prognosis of rhabdomyolysis is good, as long as your blood, electrolytes and urine are monitored closely in the event of muscle failure. It’s estimated that the mortality rate is only at 5 percent, but your risk can significantly increase if kidney failure occurs.11 If you take good care of yourself by moderating exercise, drinking enough water and getting enough rest, you will be on your way to a successful recovery.

MORE ABOUT RHABDOMYOLISIS

Rhabdomyolisis: Introduction

What Is Rhabdomyolisis?

Rhabdomyolisis Symptoms

Rhabdomyolisis Causes

Rhabdomyolisis Treatment

Rhabdomyolisis Prevention

Rhabdomyolisis Diet

Rhabdomyolisis FAQ


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