I am not a fitness fanatic. In fact, my daily exercise consists of walking my dog. I am from a generation that participated in outdoor sports rather than indoor fitness classes. I enjoy playing tennis and swimming but not as part of my daily ritual. My daughter, who is a personal trainer, would tell you, I am unfit (not of course as a mother -lol).
So, four years ago I participated at my daughter’s invitation(insistence) in a charity spinning class. Riding a bike for 45 minutes I thought to myself, what harm could that do…more than I ever imagined.
For those who are unfamiliar with a “spinning class”, it is riding a stationary bike at different inclines and speeds as dictated by the instructor for the duration of the class. I was a healthy fifty-six year old when the class began.
At the end of the class, I was still fifty-six years old, but hardly healthy. As I got off the bike, my legs felt like jelly. I attributed it to the intense workout and my being “out of shape”. A few days passed and the muscle aches in my thighs didn’t go away. I couldn’t sit down without enduring severe pain.
I mentioned to my daughter three days after the spin class how I was feeling. She was concerned. She told me what I was experiencing wasn’t normal. She had clients who were much older than I was who didn’t suffer with such discomfort so many days after a workout. She began doing a search on the internet and found a description of what I was experiencing. It was called “rhabdomyolysis”. According to webmd.com “…it is a serious syndrome due to a direct or indirect muscle injury. It results from the death of muscle fibers and the release of their contents to the bloodstream. This can lead to serious complications such as renal (kidney) failure.”
My daughter placed a phone call to my physician. My daughter explained to his nurse who answered the phone what my symptoms were and that she had a concern I had rhabdomyolysis. The response to my daughter from the nurse was “…when did you get your medical degree?” At this point I got on the phone as my daughter was about to say some very unkind things. I was advised that it might be a blood clot and I should go to the nearest Emergency Room to have it checked out, but it most certainly wasn’t rhabdomyolysis. At my daughter’s insistence we headed to the hospital. I thought it was a waste of time and I felt foolish. It was just some muscle aches.
We arrived at a very highly rated local hospital. After registering, I was put in one of the many curtained areas of the ER. The attending physician came in and spoke with me after the nurse had taken all my information. My daughter mentioned that she thought I had rhabdomyolysis. The young female doctor, who was very pleasant responded to my daughter’s growing concern, “People who have Rhabdo are very sick. Your mother doesn’t appear to be sick at all. I’ll order a scan for a blood clot per your doctor.” The physician left and the nurse came back in to draw some blood. An orderly arrived and took me for a cat scan. Shortly after, the female doctor returned and said that I didn’t have a blood clot but what I did have after running some blood tests was…rhabdomyolysis.
My daughter, although concerned for me, felt vindicated. The physician went on to say that she could have been “knocked over with a feather” when she saw the results of my blood test. She went on to explain that the normal CK levels(Creatine Kinase) should be numbers of 22 to 198 UL(units per liter). My numbers were 13,000.
I was immediately admitted into the hospital and placed on an IV of fluids. There is no medication for the treatment of Rhabdomyolysis. The body is continually flushed with fluid to bring the CK levels back to normal. After a five day stay my CK levels hovered around 1000 UL. Although my numbers were still not within the desired range, I was released on the promise that I would not engage in physical activity and would consume large quantities of water. I was told to see my personal physician after the weekend. I was also instructed to return to the ER immediately if I experienced tea-colored urine (a typical symptom of Rhabdo which I never displayed), muscle aches, or a general malaise. I saw my doctor that Tuesday and the CK numbers had returned to normal. I was completely out of the woods…except I was now more vulnerable to experiencing Rhabdomyolysis in the future.
I have since learned that Rhabdomyolysis is a very rare condition. There are an average of 26,000 cases reported in the United States each year. It often leads to renal failure and patients having to go on dialysis. It can also lead to death.
My exercise program has not changed except for one thing…I now drink plenty of water. Not staying hydrated during the spin class was most likely the cause of the Rhabdo. If I play tennis, or walk extensively I have more than just a bottle of water with me.
So many people I have spoken with including trainers have never heard of Rhabdomyolysis. Recently during a visit to a new physician, she asked me to relay to her my experience, as she was very interested in hearing about it since she had never had a patient who had Rhabdomyolysis. It is a silent problem. Both in people not having heard of it and often in its symptoms. Gyms should be required to warn clients of the possibility of Rhabdomyolysis occurring during physical activity. Hydration should be mandatory.
I am one of the lucky ones. I have no residual effects of Rhabdo. Thanks to information available on the internet, I am healthy. And of course, thanks to my daughter, who is thinking of hanging her “shingle” next door to the office of my doctor, where his nurse can see it every day.
Originally published at medium.com