Rhabdomyolysis is a condition in which damaged skeletal striated muscle breaks down rapidly. Breakdown products of damaged muscle cells are released into the bloodstream; some of these, such as the protein myoglobin, are harmful to the kidneys and may lead to kidney failure. The severity of the symptoms, which may include muscle pains, vomiting, and confusion, depends on the extent of muscle damage and whether kidney failure develops. The muscle damage may be caused by physical factors (e.g., crush injury, strenuous exercise, medications, drug abuse, and infections). Some people have a inherited muscle condition that increases the risk of rhabdomyolysis. The diagnosis is usually made with blood tests and urinalysis. The mainstay of treatment is generous quantities of intravenous fluids, but may include dialysis or hemofiltration in more severe cases. Rhabdomyolysis and its complications are significant problems for those injured in disasters such as earthquakes and bombings. Relief efforts in areas struck by earthquakes often include medical teams with the skills and equipment to treat survivors with rhabdomyolysis. The disease was first described in the 20th century, and important discoveries as to its mechanism were made during the Blitz of London in 1941. Horses may also develop rhabdomyolysis from a variety of causes.

The symptoms of rhabdomyolysis depend on its severity and whether kidney failure develops. Milder forms may not cause any muscle symptoms, and the diagnosis is based on abnormal blood tests in the context of other problems. More severe rhabdomyolysis is characterized by muscle pain, tenderness, weakness and swelling of the affected muscles. If the swelling is very rapid, as may happen after someone is released from under a collapsed building, the movement of fluid from the bloodstream into damaged muscle may cause low blood pressure and shock. Other symptoms are nonspecific and result either from the consequences of muscle tissue breakdown or from the condition that originally led to the muscle breakdown. Release of the components of muscle tissue into the bloodstream causes electrolyte disturbances, which can lead to nausea, vomiting, confusion, coma or abnormal heart rate and rhythm. The urine may be dark, often described as tea-colored, due to the presence of myoglobin. Damage to the kidneys may give rise to decreased or absent urine production, usually 12 to 24 hours after the initial muscle damage. Swelling of damaged muscle occasionally leads to compartment syndrome—compression of surrounding tissues, such as nerves and blood vessels, in the same fascial compartment—leading to the loss of blood supply and damage or loss of function in the part(s) of the body supplied by these structures. Symptoms of this complication include pain or reduced sensation in the affected limb. A second recognized complication is disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), a severe disruption in blood clotting that may lead to uncontrollable bleeding. Damage to skeletal muscle may take various forms. Crush and other physical injuries cause damage to muscle cells directly or interfere with blood supply, while non-physical causes interfere with muscle cell metabolism. When damaged, muscle tissue rapidly fills with fluid from the bloodstream, including sodium ions. The swelling itself may lead to destruction of muscle cells, but those cells that survive are subject to various disruptions that lead to rise in intracellular calcium ions; the accumulation of calcium outside the sarcoplasmic reticulum leads to continuous muscle contraction and depletion of ATP, the main carrier of energy in the cell. ATP depletion can itself lead to uncontrolled calcium influx. The persistent contraction of the muscle cell leads to breakdown of intracellular proteins and disintegration of the cell. Neutrophil granulocytes—the most abundant type of white blood cell—enter the muscle tissue, producing an inflammatory reaction and releasing reactive oxygen species,[5] particularly after crush injury.Crush syndrome may also cause reperfusion injury when blood flow to decompressed muscle is suddenly restored. The swollen, inflamed muscle may directly compress structures in the same fascial compartment, causing compartment syndrome. The swelling may also further compromise blood supply into the area. Finally, destroyed muscle cells release potassium ions, phosphate ions, the heme-containing protein myoglobin, the enzyme creatine kinase and uric acid (a breakdown product of purines from DNA) into the blood. Activation of the coagulation system may precipitate disseminated intravascular coagulation. High potassium levels may lead to potentially fatal disruptions in heart rhythm. Phosphate binds to calcium from the circulation, leading to low calcium levels in the blood. Rhabdomyolysis may cause kidney failure by several mechanisms. The most important is the accumulation of myoglobin in the kidney tubules. Normally, the blood protein haptoglobin binds circulating myoglobin and other heme-containing substances, but in rhabdomyolysis the quantity of myoglobin exceeds the binding capacity of haptoglobin.Myoglobinuria, the presence of myoglobin in the urine, occurs when the level in plasma exceeds 0.5–1.5 mg/dl; once plasma levels reach 100 mg/dl, the concentration in the urine becomes sufficient for it to be visibly discolored and corresponds with the destruction of about 200 grams of muscle. As the kidneys reabsorb more water from the filtrate, myoglobin interacts with Tamm–Horsfall protein in the nephron to form casts (solid aggregates) that obstruct the normal flow of fluid; the condition is worsened further by high levels of uric acid and acidification of the filtrate, which increase cast formation. Iron released from the heme generates reactive oxygen species, damaging the kidney cells. In addition to the myoglobinuria, two other mechanisms contribute to kidney impairment: low blood pressure leads to constriction of the blood vessels and therefore a relative lack of blood flow to the kidney, and finally uric acid may form crystals in the tubules of the kidneys, causing obstruction. Together, these processes lead to acute tubular necrosis, the destruction of the cells of tubules. Glomerular filtration rate falls and the kidney is unable to perform its normal excretory functions. This causes disruption of electrolyte regulation, leading to a further rise in potassium levels, and interferes with vitamin D processing, further worsening the low calcium levels. Complications Compartment syndrome is a clinical diagnosis, i.e., no diagnostic test conclusively proves its presence or absence, but direct measurement of the pressure in a fascial compartment, and the difference between this pressure and the blood pressure. may be used to assess its severity. High pressures in the compartment and a small difference between compartment pressure and blood pressure indicate that the blood supply is likely to be insufficient, and that surgical intervention may be needed. Disseminated intravascular coagulation, another complication of rhabdomyolysis and other forms of critical illness, may be suspected on the basis of unexpected bleeding or abnormalities in hematological tests, such as a decreasing platelet count or prolongation of the prothrombin time. The diagnosis can be confirmed with standard blood tests for DIC, such as D-dimer.

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