How is rhabdomyolysis treated in cocaine toxicity?

Updated: Dec 31, 2020
  • Author: Lynn Barkley Burnett, MD, EdD, JD; Chief Editor: Sage W Wiener, MD  more...
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The reported incidence of rhabdomyolysis in ED patients who use cocaine is 5-30%. Pathophysiologic hypotheses include placement of excessive demands on healthy muscle cells that cannot be met by available energy supplies, direct toxicity of cocaine upon the muscle membrane, cocaine-induced seizures, and the potential concomitant use of other drugs (eg, PCP, amphetamines) that are known to cause this syndrome.

Risk factors for rhabdomyolysis include altered mental status, hyperactivity, fever, seizures, hypotension, dysrhythmias, and cardiac arrest. Rhabdomyolysis may be associated with hyperphosphatemia, myoglobinuria, nephrotoxicity, hyperkalemia, hypocalcemia, compartment syndromes, or disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). The most critical sequelae of rhabdomyolysis are shock and renal failure.

Rapid fluid resuscitation promotes urine output and mitigates the effect of myoglobin on the kidneys. Generous amounts of intravenous fluids with close monitoring of urine output and pH are indicated for rhabdomyolysis associated with severe psychostimulant toxicity. Fluid resuscitation should maintain urine output of 1-3 mL/kg/h to minimize renal damage from rhabdomyolysis. Patients with rhabdomyolysis may require up to 20 L of fluid in the first 24 hours to achieve these urinary flow rates, and close monitoring of cardiac status and electrolytes is necessary.

In acid urine, myoglobin is a toxin, and uric acid tends to crystallize at low pH; sodium bicarbonate may be used to alkalinize the urine of patents with rhabdomyolysis. However, without prospective randomized studies to differentiate the role played by volume versus alkalinization, it is possible that volume alone represents maximally effective therapy. This is important because cocaine metabolites are best excreted in acid urine, and it calls into question the role of urinary alkalinization.

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