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Rhabdomyolysis is a topic covered in the 5-Minute Clinical Consult.

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  • Breakdown of skeletal muscle with release of intracellular contents into the circulation
  • Rhabdomyolysis typically manifests with muscle aches, pains and weakness, and reddish brown (tea-colored) urine. Up to 50% of patients are asymptomatic.


26,000 hospitalizations annually in United States

Etiology, Pathophysiology, and Risk Factors

  • Direct muscle trauma (most common cause)
    • Crush injuries
    • Extended periods of muscle pressure (during surgery, unconscious from alcohol ingestion)
    • Burns, electrocution, lightning strike
  • Muscle exertion
    • Intense and/or prolonged physical exercise (marathon runners, athletes, contact sports)
    • Seizures
    • Delirium tremens
  • Drugs and toxins
    • Alcohol
    • Cocaine (most common recreational drug), methamphetamine, phencyclidine, heroin, bath salts (1)[B], synthetic marijuana has been associated with severe rhabdomyolysis (2)[A].
    • Antipsychotics (due to neuroleptic malignant syndrome, malignant hyperthermia, and severe dystonia)
    • Zidovudine
    • Antimalarials
    • HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (statins) (risk <0.01%), higher with high dose and in combination with fibrates
    • Colchicine
    • Corticosteroids
    • Carbon monoxide
    • Snake envenomation
  • Muscle ischemia
    • Thrombosis, embolism, sickle cell disease
    • Compartment syndrome
    • Tourniquets
  • Infections
    • Viral: influenza A and B, coxsackievirus, HIV, varicella
    • Bacterial: Streptococcus or Staphylococcus sepsis, gas gangrene, necrotizing fasciitis, Salmonella, Legionella
    • Malaria
  • Hypothermia
  • Hyperthermia
  • Autoimmune and genetic disorders
    • Polymyositis, dermatomyositis
    • Muscular dystrophies
    • Disorders of lipid metabolism (e.g., carnitine palmitoyltransferase deficiency)
    • Disorders of carbohydrate metabolism (i.e., phosphofructokinase deficiency, phosphoglycerate mutase, myophosphorylase deficiency, aka McArdle disease/deficiency)
    • Glycogen storage diseases (e.g., phosphorylase B kinase deficiency) and others (e.g., lactate dehydrogenase A deficiency)
  • Metabolic and endocrinologic:
    • Hypothyroidism or thyrotoxicosis
    • Electrolyte imbalances (e.g., hyponatremia, hypernatremia, hypokalemia, hypocalcemia, hypophosphatemia)
    • Diabetic ketoacidosis
    • Hyperosmolar state

Hereditary causes of rhabdomyolysis are rare but should be suspected for children, patients with recurrent attacks, or patients who have attacks after minimal exertion, mild illness, or starvation.

General Prevention

  • Avoid excessive exertional muscle injury; adequate hydration to prevent renal hypoperfusion, acidemia, and subsequent renal failure
  • Avoid precipitating drugs, metabolic and electrolyte abnormalities.

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Stephens, Mark B., et al., editors. "Rhabdomyolysis." 5-Minute Clinical Consult, 27th ed., Wolters Kluwer, 2019. Medicine Central, im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/816583/all/Rhabdomyolysis.
Rhabdomyolysis. In: Stephens MB, Golding J, Baldor RA, et al, eds. 5-Minute Clinical Consult. 27th ed. Wolters Kluwer; 2019. https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/816583/all/Rhabdomyolysis. Accessed April 21, 2019.
Rhabdomyolysis. (2019). In Stephens, M. B., Golding, J., Baldor, R. A., & Domino, F. J. (Eds.), 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Available from https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/816583/all/Rhabdomyolysis
Rhabdomyolysis [Internet]. In: Stephens MB, Golding J, Baldor RA, Domino FJ, editors. 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Wolters Kluwer; 2019. [cited 2019 April 21]. Available from: https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/816583/all/Rhabdomyolysis.
* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - ELEC T1 - Rhabdomyolysis ID - 816583 ED - Stephens,Mark B, ED - Golding,Jeremy, ED - Baldor,Robert A, ED - Domino,Frank J, BT - 5-Minute Clinical Consult, Updating UR - https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/816583/all/Rhabdomyolysis PB - Wolters Kluwer ET - 27 DB - Medicine Central DP - Unbound Medicine ER -