Malignant Hyperthermia

What is Malignant Hyperthermia?

Malignant hyperthermia is a very rare but life-threatening reaction to anesthetics that can make otherwise minor surgery deadly. There are 80 distinct genetic patterns known to predispose patients to this condition, so it’s possible to test patients for the condition. About 50% of the children or siblings of a person confirmed to have malignant hyperthermia will also have it.

Only certain anesthetics and drugs trigger a reaction, so patients can still work with an experienced anesthesiologist to make surgery safer. The biggest danger comes when a patient goes in for an emergency procedure without being able to notify the healthcare professionals of their condition.

What are the Symptoms of Malignant Hyperthermia?

A patient with malignant hyperthermia will have no signs or symptoms of the condition until a critical reaction occurs upon exposure to an inhaled anesthetic or the muscle relaxant known as succinylcholine.

Symptoms associated with the reaction are:

  • A sudden rise in body temperature to 105 degrees F or higher (40.5 °C)
  • Stiffness and rigidity through the muscle groups
  • Achiness and tenderness of the muscles if the patient is awake
  • Internal bleeding and rarely external bleeding from the nose
  • Cardiac arrest and brain damage when emergency treatment is not given.

How is Malignant Hyperthermia Treated?

Since many cases are not discovered until a reaction interrupts surgery or recovery, immediate treatment is essential. Emergency cooling measures like ice baths and cold irrigation are started first, followed by medications to control heart rate and supplemental oxygen as needed. Intravenous fluids prevent organ damage.

The symptoms must be waited out and the focus should be on minimizing damage. Once a patient knows they have malignant hyperthermia, they should invest in a medical alert bracelet or an implanted chip to notify emergency responders of their reaction.

Last Reviewed:
October 07, 2016
Last Updated:
August 30, 2017
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