It’s important to learn the signs and symptoms of rhabdo that may be present. Learning the symptoms can help you figure out if you or someone else needs to seek medical attention. If you develop rhabdo, you might have one or more of these symptoms:
- Muscle cramps, aches, or pains that are more severe than expected
- Dark urine (tea- or cola-colored)
- Feeling weak or tired, unable to complete job tasks or finish a workout routine
It is possible to have rhabdo and show no symptoms. If you do begin to show these symptoms, seek medical care immediately!
When will symptoms appear?
The only way to know you have rhabdo is through a blood test that checks for the presence of a muscle protein, creatine kinase (CK), in the blood. If you suspect that you may have rhabdo, ask to have your CK levels checked.
Symptoms can appear any time after muscle injury. For some people, symptoms might not start to appear until several days after the initial injury. If you have any of these symptoms at any time, do not ignore them. Seek medical treatment right away. Earlier diagnosis means an earlier start to treatment and a greater chance of recovery without permanent health effects.
How is rhabdo diagnosed?
You can’t tell by symptoms alone if you have rhabdo. Other conditions like dehydration and heat cramps can cause the same symptoms. The only way to know for sure is to obtain a blood test.
Repeated blood tests for the muscle protein creatine kinase (CK or creatine phosphokinase [CPK]) are the only accurate test for rhabdo.
A healthcare provider can do a blood test for CK:
- The muscle protein CK enters the bloodstream when muscle tissue is damaged.
- When rhabdo is present, CK levels will rise.
You will need repeat blood tests to determine if CK levels are going up or down:
- Like symptoms, the rise in CK may not appear right away.
- Healthcare providers should test CK levels until 2 consecutive tests show levels lowering.
Urine dipstick tests are not a good way to diagnose rhabdo:
- These tests check for myoglobin (a muscle cell component) indirectly.
- Myoglobin quickly clears from the body so it may not show up in urine.
- High CK levels in the blood may persist for days.
If you suspect you have rhabdo and your healthcare provider does not check your serial CK levels, be sure to ask for it!
Firefighters can download a wallet card to show their healthcare providers.
- Gives healthcare providers information about firefighters’ increased risk for rhabdo.
- Reminds providers to check firefighters’ repeated (serial) CK levels if they show possible rhabdo signs and symptoms. Repeated tests let healthcare providers know if levels are increasing or decreasing.
- Structural firefighter wallet card
- Wildland firefighter wallet card