Ask Dr. Nandi: What is Rhabdomyolysis? Teen suffers deadly illness from exercising too much

Posted at 5:58 PM, Jun 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-01 17:58:08-04

Summer is fast approaching and many people are hitting the gym, but that soreness the next day could signal a bigger problem.

Seventeen-year-old Jared Shamburger just got a new gym membership with his family. But after an intense arm workout last week the soreness and swelling weren't going away. 

"It was super-duper sore. Everything hurt. It hurt to the touch. It was swollen," he says.
"The farthest I could move was like to here, and I was like this is not right."

Jared's mom Judy searched the symptoms online and it paid off.

"The mama bear in me kind of took over and I called the pediatrician and said, I really think my son has Rhabdo," Judy says.

We now know it can be caused by many things including injury and hitting the gym too hard.

But, what is Rhabdo? And how can something as common as a strenuous workout turn into something potentially deadly?  

Let me start by saying the jarred is expected to make a full recovery. But, let's start with the basics to understand what happened to him.

When you lift weights, you cause tiny tears in the muscle fibers. So your body will send protein to sort of pave over the damage and this is how you end up with bigger muscles.  

Now Rhabdomyolysis can happen when you have extreme muscle strain. The injured muscles can break down and release a protein called myoglobin into the bloodstream.  

This protein can damage the kidneys, making it harder for them to remove waste and concentrated urine. And this can lead to kidney failure.  

In some cases, Rhabdomyolysis can cause death. 

I recommend that you stick to moderate-intensity levels and avoid overdoing it by listening to your body.

That means not going beyond what feels comfortable or natural.

Also I want you to make sure to drink enough water.  

Now Rhabdomyolysis is extremely rare, but it’s still important to know the signs if you’re really pushing the boundaries of your workout regime.  

Just like in Jared’s case, you can experience sore muscles, weakness and trouble moving, but also watch for dark-colored urine or infrequent urination.  

If you experience these symptoms, it’s important to get medical attention right away.  

If you’re diagnosed and treated early enough, you can expect a full recovery.  

Now I don’t want Rhabdomyolysis to scare people off exercise. It’s good to push yourself so that you build up endurance and strength. But just don’t go to extremes.