Rhabdomyolysis is a rare muscle injury where your muscles break down. This is a life-threatening condition that can happen after an injury or excessive exercise without rest. If you notice symptoms like weak and sore muscles and color changes in your pee, contact your healthcare provider.
Rhabdomyolysis (pronounced “rab-doe-my-ah-luh-suhs”) is a condition that causes your muscles to break down (disintegrate), which leads to muscle death. When this happens, toxic components of your muscle fibers enter your circulation system and kidneys. This can cause kidney damage.
This dangerous muscle condition can result from overexertion, trauma, medications or an underlying health condition. Common signs and symptoms of rhabdomyolysis are weak muscles, muscle stiffness, muscle pain and a change in your pee color.
You may hear rhabdomyolysis referred to as “rhabdo.”
Rhabdomyolysis can be life-threatening, so if you notice any of these signs or symptoms, visit a healthcare provider immediately.
Rhabdomyolysis is relatively uncommon. Every year, about 26,000 people in the United States develop this condition.
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Signs and symptoms of rhabdomyolysis include:
Rhabdomyolysis symptoms can range from mild to severe. Symptoms usually develop one to three days after a muscle injury, though some people may not even notice muscle soreness.
Some people also experience:
Causes of rhabdomyolysis include:
Rhabdomyolysis causes your muscles to break down and deteriorate. This makes components of your muscles leak into your circulation system (blood), including large amounts of:
Your kidneys are responsible for removing these components from your blood so you can get rid of them in your pee. In large quantities, these muscle components damage your kidneys. If your kidneys can’t get rid of your body’s waste fast enough, kidney failure can occur. This can be life-threatening.
You can’t inherit rhabdomyolysis. Certain genetic conditions can increase your risk of developing the condition. You can develop rhabdomyolysis if you have an inherited muscle disease like muscular dystrophy.
Rhabdomyolysis can happen to anyone. However, you may be more at risk of developing rhabdomyolysis if you’re:
Complications of rhabdomyolysis include:
Rhabdomyolysis can be life-threatening if it isn’t treated quickly.
Your healthcare provider will diagnose rhabdomyolysis by:
After a diagnosis of rhabdomyolysis, your healthcare provider may order a muscle biopsy test. For a muscle biopsy, your doctor will:
Your provider may also recommend a blood test to see if you have a genetic condition that increases your risk of developing rhabdomyolysis.
If you have extremely sore or weak muscles a few days after exercising, you may have rhabdomyolysis. You should also look out for muscle swelling and dark urine. If you have these symptoms, see your healthcare provider right away to get tested and treated for rhabdomyolysis.
Treatment for rhabdomyolysis includes supportive therapy, like:
Side effects of treatment could include:
The side effects of dialysis usually go away with repeated dialysis treatments.
If you don’t have any complications caused by rhabdomyolysis, you may feel better within a few weeks. Resting helps you feel better during treatment. Your healthcare provider may recommend you wait several weeks to months before resuming exercise activities again. Don’t exercise until your healthcare provider tells you it’s safe.
You can’t prevent all causes of rhabdomyolysis, especially if an underlying condition or an accident caused it.
You can reduce your risk of developing exercise-induced rhabdomyolysis by:
If you have symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, you should see a healthcare provider right away. Rhabdomyolysis can be life-threatening. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to your recovery.
Many people recover after rhabdomyolysis treatment. But most people have lingering muscle weakness for a few weeks after the injury. In up to 50% of rhabdomyolysis cases, people experience acute kidney injury. Some people need dialysis for an extended time if their kidneys can’t function.
You’ll be able to exercise again after your healthcare provider gives you the all-clear. Make sure you listen to your body and avoid overworking yourself or pushing yourself too hard.
If you continue to have muscle pain, weakness, or swelling a few days after exercise, you should call your healthcare provider right away. Rhabdomyolysis is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Rhabdomyolysis is a serious condition that can be life-threatening without treatment. If you notice signs or symptoms of the condition, visit a healthcare provider. You can reduce your risk of developing this condition when you’re exercising by listening to your body. If you’re tired, take a break. Don’t push yourself too hard. Stay hydrated and cool down your body if you’re working in warm temperatures. Your outcome will be more positive if you receive a diagnosis and treatment quickly.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/24/2023.
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