Rhabdomyolysis is something that’s probably not too well known in the hiking community but it’s something I want to shed some light on. Rhabdomyoslys, or rhabdo for short, is something that every hiker should know about whether they’re at a novice, advanced, or an expert hiking level. On long or strenuous hikes, rhabdomyolysis can be something that could potentially be fatal.
What Hikers Need To Know About Rhabdomyolysis
To keep things simple, rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of muscle proteins inside the body. Rhabdo can be caused by a variety of things. There’s also a variety of things that can increase a person’s risk of it. For this topic, I’m going to be focusing strictly on the risks associated with hiking. This type of risk is known as exertional rhabdomyolysis and is a result of one overall theme: overexertion. Exertional rhabdomyolysis essentially where the energy levels inside the body can no longer meet the demands of the muscles.
What Happens To Muscles With Rhabdomyolysis
Risks and Causes Of Exertional Rhabdomyolysis and Hiking
Risks of causing rhabdomyolysis are pretty easy to identify. They could be caused by just one or all of the things mentioned below:
Alcohol and Drugs:
Symptoms Of Rhabdomyolysis
One of the most well known methods for self-diagnosing rhabdo is a coke colored urine. The brownish/red color is caused by the breakdown of muscle tissue that is being filtered out by the kidneys. That broken down muscle has to go somewhere so it ends up in your urine. If you start noticing some funky colored urine after doing some strenuous hiking, head to the emergency room right away – you probably have rhabdo.
Although coke colored urine is usually a pretty conclusive sign of rhabdo, it’s not the only symptom. Other signs and symptoms might include, muscle failure (during the time of exercise), muscle pain, muscle stiffness, muscle cramping, muscle weakness, and swelling. Keep in mind, over half of rhabdomyolysis patients might not report any muscular symptoms at all. A person also doesn’t have to have coke colored urine to have rhabdo.
One of the most definitive diagnostic tests of rhabdo is a blood test called a creatine kinase (CK). A CK test measures a byproduct of muscle breakdown. If this test is significantly elevated and your symptoms meet the condition, you’ll likely be diagnosed with rhabdo.
Complications Of Rhabdomyolysis
One of the most common complications of rhabdo is kidney (renal) failure. As I already mentioned, the passing of broken down muscle tissue through the kidneys is damaging to your small kidney vessels and can cause the kidneys to shut down. Some patients may experience lifelong kidney complications because of this. For hikers, one thing that can increase the risk of rhabdo and kidney complications is dehydration. Drinking enough fluid is essential to preventing rhabdo.
Hopefully, the kidneys recover on their own through simple IV fluid hydration. However, some cases can lead to a patient needing emergent dialysis. This happens because as the kidneys stop working, the body loses it’s ability to filter toxins from the blood. These can cause electrolyte and acid imbalances in the blood. If theses imbalances become too extreme, a patient can die.
Don’t Take Rhabdo Lightly – Get Diagnosed
Diagnosing rhabdo is quite easy. All it requires is a simple blood and urine test. A lot of rhabdo probably goes undiagnosed. Originally, exertional rhabdo was isolated to the military and athletes because of their vigorous workouts. However, as boot camp and Cross-Fit style workouts have become more popular, the rates of incidence have been increasing.
As hiking continues to become more popular and more strenuous hiking challenges have taken place, it’s likely that rhabdo will become more common to the hiking community. If you feel something is wrong with your body after doing a hike or if you notice any of the mentioned signs and symptoms, please go to an Urgent Care or Emergency Room as soon as possible.
In part two of my series on hiking and rhabdomyolysis, I’ll be talking about things you can do to prevent rhabdo and how it’s treated once a diagnosis is made. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments.