Rhabdomyolysis is a Muscle Condition that Affects the Kidneys

There are many different medical conditions that can affect your kidneys and result in serious health complications. A disease that affects the kidneys is more serious than other conditions because the kidneys are vital to sustain a healthy life. One serious medical condition that affects the kidneys is called rhabdomyolysis, and it is common among active people.

Rhabdomyolysis is a medical condition where a breakdown of the muscle fibers results in a release of the muscle content. The muscle content known as myoglobin flows into the bloodstream, which can damage the kidneys. This is a muscle condition that can harm your kidneys as the toxins are released into the bloodstream. A protein pigment called myoglobin is released into the bloodstream when a muscle becomes damaged, and then the kidneys filter it out of the body. When the myoglobin breaks down, it can contain some harmful toxins that might block the kidney structures. When you have a kidney structure that is blocked you will most likely get kidney failure. The dead muscle tissues can result in large amounts of fluid moving from the blood into the muscles. When this occurs, the fluid volume of the body will drop and you could have reduced blood flow to the kidneys or even go into shock.

Rhabdomyolysis is usually caused when there is damage to the skeletal muscle, most commonly from trauma of some kind. There are also several different risk factors that can increase your chances of getting this condition. Some of the risk factors include alcoholism, use or overdose of drugs such as cocaine or heroin and certain inherited conditions. You might also be at risk of you had heatstroke, trauma or head injuries, muscle necrosis or a bone-crushing injury. Heat intolerance, low phosphate levels, chills and severe exertion such as running a marathon can also increase your risk for getting rhabdomyolysis.

There are several symptoms of rhabdomyolysis but most of them are general in nature, which means they could be indicative of other conditions. Muscle tenderness, joint pain, weakness of muscles, muscle ache or stiffness and general weakness are the most common. Weight gain, seizures, fatigue and abnormal urine color are also some common symptoms you might experience. Rhabdomyolysis will often present with red or very dark urine and it might even look like cola. It is important to know the symptoms you are experiencing so you can tell your doctor before any tests are performed.

There are several different tests a doctor might perform to confirm a diagnosis of rhabdomyolysis. A urinalysis might be done to test whether hemoglobin is found in the urine. The hemoglobin would be present in the urinalysis even if red blood cells are not found microscopically. A physical examination would be done to test your reflexes and muscle control to look for abnormalities. A serum potassium and serum creatinine test would be done to test the levels of the compounds in your body. A serum myoglobin test would be performed and if it is positive rhabdomyolysis is confirmed. Once you have a confirmed diagnosis of rhabdomyolysis, you can move on to coordinating treatment with your doctor.

Treatment for rhabdomyolysis consists of many different things and it will depend on when the condition was diagnosed. If rhabdomyolysis was caught early, you might just have aggressive fluid treatment performed so your body will stay hydrated. The aggressive fluid treatment can help prevent further damage to the kidneys by flushing out the myoglobin. The fluids might be given through an intravenous line if you are not able to drink a lot of fluids on your own. Kidney dialysis might also be used for treatment if the condition has progressed. Diuretic medication and bicarbonate might also be used as forms of treatment for rhabdomyolysis, if your urine output is normal. When you go into kidney failure it is common that low blood calcium levels will be reported. If this occurs, then you will need medication to treat the low calcium levels as well. If you can diagnose and treat rhabdomyolysis quickly, then you will have a better prognosis.

The outcome of someone diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis will depend upon when the diagnosis was made. It is also important to note that the amount of kidney damage will also play a role in the overall prognosis. The further the kidney damage has progressed indicates a bleaker outlook. If you can begin treatment soon after rhabdomyolysis was diagnosed, then you can prevent chronic kidney failure. Most people will be able to begin normal activities within a month after treatment was initiated. For some people, there might be chronic fatigue or muscle pain that will need to be managed by medications.

There are only a couple of complications from rhabdomyolysis, and they are acute tubular necrosis and acute renal failure. Rhabdomyolysis is a very treatable medical condition that has a pretty good prognosis when caught in time. You can help prevent rhabdomyolysis by drinking plenty of fluids after exercise and after strenuous physical activity. If you properly hydrate yourself during events that involve possible skeletal muscle damage, then you can also prevent this disease. Anyone can get rhabdomyolysis although an athlete or very active person is the most at risk for developing the condition. An athlete is most at risk due to the fact they are always involved in strenuous activity and they might not properly hydrate afterward. The most important thing to remember about rhabdomyolysis is that it can be prevented by using common sense and staying hydrated after a sports-related activity.

Parul Patel, MD, “Rhabdomyolysis“, Medline Plus

National Institute of Health Staff, “Rhabdomyolysis“, National Institute of Health