Can rhabdo kill you? Rhabdomyolysis (rhabdo) is a serious medical disorder I've been teaching about for over 10 years. It can occur when you exercise so much. When you do this, your muscles die, releasing toxins in your blood which can have health grave consequences. While more people know about rhabdomyolysis than when I first started talking about it, one thing I've noticed is many people don't take rhabdo seriously. Because of this, I need you to know, yes people can die from rhabdo. People have died from rhabdo. I tell you this, not to scare you but so that you know sometimes it can happen. In this review, I want to share with you some of the proof, but the risk in perspective and also give you some ideas on other things that can raise your risk.
Rhabdomyolysis Is Serious
When I go on social media – especially Instagram – I see many people tagging their workout pictures with #rhabdo.” They don't have the condition; they are using #rhabdo to give people an idea of how hard their workouts were. It's like a badge of honor I suppose.
In my opinion, their use of #rhabdo -when they do not have the condition- water-downs the significance of this health disorder. I really think it makes people believe rhabdomyolysis is not a big deal.
Rhabdo IS a big deal to all the other people on Instagram posting pictures of themselves in the hospital. It's a big deal to me too because I talk to them – sometimes from their hospital rooms. I know how serious this condition is.
So for everybody out there who uses #rhabdo, on Instagram and elsewhere, stop it. Your workout wasn't that bad. If it was, you'd have rhabdomyolysis and you'd quickly realize how serious this is.
Other Rhabdomyolysis Reviews
For more insights, here are other reviews on rhabdo I have written:
- Rhabdo and Personal Training
- Is It Rhabdo or DOMS
- 5 Reasons Gyms Are Causing Rhabdo
- Mild Case of Rhabdo?
- Can Spinning Cause Rhabdo? Yes!
- Interview: She got rhabdo from spinning class
- Interview: Rhabdomyolysis with non-typical side effects
- My interview on SuperHuman Radio
- My interview on the GymWits Podcast
As you can tell, I have a lot to say about this condition. I did, after all, write the first book -EVER 0n rhabdomyolysis and exercise.
Video Review: Can You Die From Rhabdo?
Here's a video I created to help you understand this. This video covers some information not found in the written review.
Proof Rhabdo Can Kill You
Few websites discuss this possibility but people have died from this disorder. Here are a few cases which highlight this possibility.
The autopsy report stated the police officer died from “multi-system organ failure” caused by “muscle breakdown” which released toxins into the blood which was harmful to the kidneys. That toxin is called myoglobin. Basically this is muscle -hemoglobin. It's toxic to the kidneys in high concentrations.
As reported by Fox 8 in Cleveland, the physical fitness test he was doing consisted of:
- 21 push-ups in 1 minute
- 31 sit-ups in 1 minute
- Run 1.5 miles in under 13 minutes
- Going through an obstacle course
The officer was also doing this test in very hot conditions (92-degree temperatures) which likely contributed to rhabdomyolysis.
To be fair, the autopsy also stated the officer suffered from some heart disease, which I expect to see in someone who is 50. But there was no indication he ever suffered from heart problems.
I am not sure if he trained for this event or not. One thing to remember about rhabdo is it's more common when we do activities we are not used to. See the spinning and rhabdo review for more insights on this.
The report also mentioned his use of a dietary supplement but they do not tell what this supplement was. I have my suspicions. See the supplement section below.
In another report, in march 2018, a young man had to be placed in a medically induced coma after collapsing from a heart attack after completing the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach. His heart stopped beating for 9 minutes. This was a fit, healthy young man who had just completed his first half marathon. Fortunately, this man survived because he received prompt medical attention.
In 2015,a 40-year-old triathlete from Virginia died from rhabdomyolysis and dehydration following an Ironman race in Colorado.
In a report by CBS news it was stated that between 2000-2011, 21 college football players have collapsed and died from rhabdo complications during football practice. These were fit, young people. Rhabdo does not discriminate. Both fit and unfit people can get this condition.
It is because of these deaths, many colleges now conduct genetic testing on athletes. Some genetic traits can raise the risk of getting rhabdo. See below for more on this.
I'm the first to admit, rhabdo carries a low risk of death (thank goodness). But, death is the most serious side effect you can get from something. I don't think this message gets out to the public as much as should.
What Increases Rhabdo Risk?
After investigating this condition for over a decade, I've seen several factors linked to increasing the risk of exercise-induced rhabdomyolysis. Some of these factors include:
- Performing new/unusual exercises or activities
- Returning to strenuous exercise after a long hiatus from training
- Exercise in hot temperatures
- Lack of fluids (dehydration does not stop rhabdo but can reduce kidney failure)
- Having the sickle cell anemia trait (a genetic trait)
- Having McArdle's disease (a genetic trait)
- Thyroid problems
- Recent viral illness
- Drug abuse (that includes marijuana)
- Having liver problems
- Taking some medicines like statin drugs or even acne medications
- Lack of education by fitness professionals
There are additional factors too. Please know I listed the medical conditions not to scare you but to just mention they can elevate the risk, especially if you are at a low fitness level and take part in strenuous exercise. I cannot tell you the odds of getting rhabdomyolysis if you have these medical conditions though. It's complicated and statistics are not available.
Of all of these factors, I believe the biggest reasons for getting rhabdo are:
- the newness of the exercise (have you ever done it before or done it recently?)
- exercising in hot temperatures
- lack of education about rhabdo
Supplements And Rhabdo
As stated above, the Ohio police officer who passed away from rhabdomyolysis was also said to be taking a dietary supplement. Could the supplement have played a role? While they did not give the name of the supplement, over the years, I've noticed reports of some dietary supplements being linked to rhabdomyolysis.
While there are hundreds of thousands of supplements, the ones I think which might elevate your risk of rhabdo the most are those containing stimulants like:
- bitter orange
Supplements which might contain ingredients can include:
Obviously, the risk increases when you use more than is recommended and engaging exercises that are:
- activities you have not done before or recently
What about creatine supplements? Do they also raise the risk? In some circles, this is a bit controversial. While there have been reports of individuals getting rhabdo after taking creatine supplements, in every report I've seen, the people had other factors too (sickle cell trait, just started training, etc.) which I believed was more likely the reason why they developed this condition. Could creatine have played role? Sure, it's possible, but I have not seen any damming proof it does this.
The risk of rhabdo occurring from dietary supplement use is not known. Most of what we know comes from reports of individuals who were admitted to hospitals.
So Can Rhabdo Kill You?
The short answer is yes, people have died from rhabdo complications. The risk is low, however. Please know most people do not die from rhabdomyolysis. I know some of you are reading this because you think you have rhabdo and are scared. I don't want to scare you. I wrote this so people would take this rare medical condition seriously and help them get medical attention if needed.
Because each case is different, if you think you have rhabdomyolysis, do not look for answers on the internet. For example, despite what so-called experts often say about looking for dark-colored urine, your pee can look normal and you can still have the disorder. The only way to know for sure if you have rhabdo is to go to the hospital. Doctors can quickly figure out if you have it by doing some simple blood and urine tests.
I truly hope this has helped you.