Rhabdomyolysis explained

Dear Dr. Roach: You recently wrote about exercise causing rhabdomyolysis, and I have a question about that. My 92-year-old mother-in-law fell, and wasn’t sure how long she laid there, but the doctors said she had no broken bones. However, she did develop rhabdomyolysis. Since she does not exercise, how did she acquire this condition? The only medication she is on is one for blood pressure. — G.M.

Answer: Rhabdomyolysis is a very serious condition of muscle breakdown. The most common cause I have seen is your mother-in-law’s: pressure on muscle in someone who is unconscious or unable to move for a prolonged period (in normal sleep, the body changes position frequently, which prevents this). However, it can happen in untrained people after heavy workouts, or even in trained athletes who do extreme workouts, especially in hot and humid conditions. Some medications rarely can cause it, such as colchicine or statin drugs. Rhabdomyolysis is treated conservatively, by removing the underlying cause, and trying to prevent damage to the kidney.

For elderly or frail people who live alone, I recommend a device that can be easily carried and pressed to get help. Some of these can recognize a fall and will send a signal automatically. Falls are common in the elderly, and these devices can help prevent some of the serious consequences of falling.

Readers: The booklet on sodium, potassium chloride and bicarbonate explains the functions of these body chemicals and how low or high readings are corrected. To obtain a copy, write:

Dr. Roach

Book No. 202

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