An evidence-based narrative review of the emergency department evaluation and management of rhabdomyolysis

Am J Emerg Med. 2019 Mar;37(3):518-523. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2018.12.061. Epub 2019 Jan 2.


Background: Rhabdomyolysis is a medical condition caused by muscle breakdown leading to potential renal damage. This can result in significant morbidity and mortality if not rapidly identified and treated.

Objective: This article provides an evidence-based narrative review of the diagnosis and management of rhabdomyolysis, with focused updates for the emergency clinician.

Discussion: Rhabdomyolysis is caused by the breakdown of muscle cells leading to the release of numerous intracellular molecules, including potassium, calcium, phosphate, uric acid, and creatinine kinase. There are a number of potential etiologies, including exertion, extreme temperature changes, ischemia, infections, immobility, drugs, toxins, endocrine causes, autoimmune reactions, trauma, or genetic conditions. Findings can include myalgias, muscle weakness, or dark-colored urine, but more often include non-specific symptoms. The diagnosis is often determined with an elevated creatinine kinase greater than five times the upper-limit of normal. Severe disease may result in renal failure, electrolyte derangements, liver disease, compartment syndrome, and disseminated intravascular coagulation. Treatment includes addressing the underlying etiology, as well as aggressive intravenous hydration with a goal urine output of 300 mL/h. Bicarbonate, mannitol, and loop diuretics do not possess strong evidence for improved outcomes. Renal replacement therapy should be determined on a case-by-case basis. Most patients are admitted, though some may be appropriate for discharge.

Conclusion: Rhabdomyolysis is a potentially dangerous medical condition requiring rapid diagnosis and management that may result in significant complications if not appropriately identified and treated. Emergency clinician knowledge of this condition is essential for appropriate management.

Keywords: Creatine kinase; Intravenous fluids; Muscle; Renal injury; Rhabdomyolysis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Creatine Kinase / blood
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Fluid Therapy
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / therapy
  • Renal Replacement Therapy
  • Rhabdomyolysis / complications
  • Rhabdomyolysis / diagnosis*
  • Rhabdomyolysis / etiology
  • Rhabdomyolysis / therapy*


  • Biomarkers
  • Creatine Kinase