Health advocate shares experience with Rhabdo to warn others


AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – A local woman in good health came forward after being hospitalized for a condition that doctors tell her was brought on by activities that many people do everyday.

Very few people come through the emergency room for this particular illness, but the causes are very broad. People who work out, especially in the heat, are the ones who really need to know about it.

“I started having a lot of abdominal pain and I couldn’t fully stand up because the pain was so bad,” said Ashlee Edwards after a painful Saturday two weeks ago doing what most people do all the time.

“I had cut grass early that morning because I wanted to beat that Georgia heat,” she said. “I didn’t sweat. I was only out there 30 minutes. It was a nice breeze.”

What happened next for the 34-year-old assured her of the problem.

“When I went to the restroom my urine was the color of brown soda or tea,” she explained.

“Where I only have one single kidney and I drink so much water I knew that was a sign. I went out and I looked at my wife and I said I think that I have Rhabdo and we need to go to the doctor.”

Edwards, who donated her kidney to a cousin four years ago, is in good health. She lives a very active life, typically outdoors.

And she’s an avid Crossfit participant and has been for nearly four years.

While hospitalized for three days, Edwards was in the care of Dr. Nadeem Afzal.

The Doctors Hospital Nephrologist said the syndrome impacts not just new and seasoned workout enthusiasts, but people who experience any kind of muscle trauma.

“Rhabdomyolysis. It is the damage of the muscles,” Dr. Afzal said.  “Extreme exertion in extreme weathers, especially in hot weather people go and exercise. There are some medications that can cause it. But the most common cause which we come across is actually related to muscle injury or traffic accidents or people who fall down and they become unconscious.”

Dr. Afzal said damaged muscles release a protein into a person’s bloodstream, which leads to kidney problems. So he said those who workout need electrolytes or potassium.

Non-traumatic Rhabdo causes are:

  • Alcohol
  • Illegal drugs
  • Heat stroke
  • Metabolic disorder
  • and in some cases caffeine, something Edwards said she indulged in before cutting grass in the heat.

“I love caffeine. I drink a lot of it. But since I was hospitalized, I don’t drink it in the morning anymore,” she said adding that she will only have a cup in the middle of the day.

She added that Rhabdo cases can be found in everyone from marathon runners, coffee drinkers, and even people on active duty in the Army, noting that you can be active or non-active.

Edwards has to slowly work herself back into her normal routine. But she plans to still advocate for staying hydrated and not pushing yourself beyond your skill level to help people avoid Rhabdo.  She warns:

  • For people to be mindful of their actions. I’m not asking people to stop living life, but am asking people to pay attention to their actions.
  • If you drink alcohol heavily the night before. Think twice about that strenuous exercise the next day.
  • Want to cut the grass before it gets too hot out? Drink a bit of water instead of coffee beforehand.
  • Want to take on a new exercise class or returning from an extended period of time off? Push yourself, but take your time and scale back the workouts to your current condition. Allow your body to acclimate to your new routine or returning to an activity.
  • Remember to replace your electrolytes after working out.
  • If you’re out at the lake in the sun having a few beers, have some water before opening another beer. If you’re out in the sun in general, be sure to drink lots of water.

Edwards also adds that she wants more discussion on how to prevent Rhabdo before it’s too late.

“They may see a dark colored urine and wait a few days to see if it will pass. That is when you’re going to get into a lot of complications like kidney failure,” she said.

Only severe cases of Rhabdo can lead to dialysis. But recovery time is typically a few days. Dr. Afzal added that once a person gets Rhabdo, they are more likely to get it again.

Edwards said she hesitated on coming forward because Rhabdo is sometimes automatically attached to a specific activity. Doctors said the leading cause that sends people to the hospital for Rhabdo is muscle injury from traffic crashes.Photojournalist: Gary Hipps

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