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What Are the Symptoms of Rhabdomyolysis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 07 July 2014
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The symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, a condition where muscle tissue rapidly breaks down, include muscle weakness and pain, along with changes to the patient's urine output. This condition is often associated with severe muscle trauma, as seen in crush injuries, and it can also occur as an adverse reaction to medications or in the context of a genetic muscular disorder. Patients need to be treated, as the complications of rhabdomyolysis can be quite severe and may include coma and death.

In patients with rhabdomyolysis, the disintegrating muscle tissue releases high volumes of muscle proteins like myoglobin into the bloodstream. The kidneys, designed to filter the blood, cannot handle high concentrations of these proteins and can start to fail, setting off a cascading series of reactions, each with its own set of symptoms.

Initially, the symptoms of rhabdomyolysis involve swelling at the site where muscles are breaking apart, along with severe pain and weakness. As the myoglobin travels to the kidneys, the urine will become very dark. Some patients stop producing urine completely, a sign of obstruction in the kidneys. As the kidneys start to fail, electrolyte imbalances develop in the blood, leading to secondary symptoms of rhabdomyolysis like nausea, vomiting, irregularities in the heart rate, and coma.

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Treatment of rhabdomyolysis involves stabilizing the patient and addressing the underlying cause. Fluids are usually given, and the patient may be put on hemodialysis to filter the blood and take over for the struggling kidneys. Discontinuing recent medications, treating severe intoxication, and taking other steps to treat the patient for the cause of the rhabdomyolysis should help prevent further skeletal muscle breakdown and make the patient more comfortable.

If a patient experiences symptoms of rhabdomyolysis and they are not identified in time, it is possible to experience permanent damage. When kidneys fail, other organs in the body are affected as well, and even if the kidney function can be restored, these organs may be damaged. For this reason, it is important for people to seek prompt medical treatment at the earliest signs of kidney problems, including changes in urinary output, abdominal pain, and changes in the color of the urine.

Patients at risk for developing rhabdomyolysis will usually be monitored closely for the symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, and steps will be taken to address it as quickly as possible. This condition was first identified in patients pulled from collapsed buildings during the Second World War, and because of the close association with crush injuries, patients who have been crushed or compressed are carefully watched during the course of their treatment.

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