Rhabdomyolysis in the intensive care unit

J Intensive Care Med. 2012 Nov-Dec;27(6):335-42. doi: 10.1177/0885066611402150. Epub 2011 Mar 24.


Rhabdomyolysis is a clinical syndrome defined by muscle breakdown and subsequent release of intracellular contents. There are many etiologies of rhabdomyolysis, classified here as congenital and acquired; compartment syndrome secondary to trauma with reperfusion injury is one common precipitating factor. Regardless of the underlying etiology, the pathophysiology follows a similar pathway via myocyte destruction and release of myoglobin into the systemic circulation. Rhabdomyolysis-induced renal failure is caused by the precipitation of myoglobin in the renal tubules which is enhanced under acidic conditions. A high index of clinical suspicion is required to promptly recognize rhabdomyolysis, especially in the unconscious patient. Presenting symptoms include tea-colored urine and muscle weakness or fatigue. The diagnosis is confirmed most reliably with the finding of elevated serum creatine kinase levels. Early, aggressive resuscitation with either normal saline or lactated Ringer's solution to maintain an adequate urine output is the most important intervention in preventing the development of acute renal failure. There is insufficient clinical evidence supporting the routine administration of diuretics and bicarbonate to protect against the development of acute renal failure.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Male
  • Rhabdomyolysis*