American Journal of Kidney Diseases

Muscle Relaxant Use Among Hemodialysis Patients: Prevalence, Clinical Indications, and Adverse Outcomes

Published:January 10, 2019DOI:

      Rationale & Objective

      Muscle relaxants are often used to treat musculoskeletal pain or cramping, which are commonly experienced by hemodialysis patients. However, the extent to which muscle relaxants are prescribed in this population and the risks associated with their use have not been characterized.

      Study Design

      Observational cohort study.

      Setting & Participants

      140,899 Medicare-covered adults receiving hemodialysis in 2011, identified in the US Renal Data System.


      Time-varying muscle relaxant exposure.


      Primary outcomes were time to first emergency department visit or hospitalization for altered mental status, fall, or fracture. Secondary outcomes were death and composites of death with each of the primary outcomes.

      Analytical Approach

      Multivariable Cox regression analysis.


      10% of patients received muscle relaxants in 2011. 11%, 6%, 3%, and 13% had an episode of altered mental status, fall, fracture, and death, respectively. Muscle relaxant use was associated with higher risk for altered mental status (HR, 1.39; 95% CI, 1.29-1.51) and fall (HR, 1.18; 95% CI, 1.05-1.33) compared to no use. Muscle relaxant use was not statistically significantly associated with higher risk for fracture (HR, 1.17; 95% CI, 0.98-1.39). Muscle relaxant use was associated with lower hazard of death (HR, 0.85; 95% CI, 0.76-0.94). However, hazards were higher for altered mental status or death (HR, 1.17; 95% CI, 1.10-1.25), fall or death (HR, 1.14; 95% CI, 1.06-1.22), and fracture or death (HR, 1.10; 95% CI, 1.01-1.20).


      A causal association between muscle relaxant use and outcomes cannot be inferred, and residual confounding cannot be excluded. Exposure and outcomes were ascertained using administrative claims.


      Muscle relaxant use was common in hemodialysis patients and associated with altered mental status and falls. We could not rule out a clinically meaningful association between muscle relaxant use and fracture. The lower risk for death with muscle relaxants may have been the result of residual confounding. Future research to define the appropriate use of muscle relaxants in this population is warranted.

      Index Words

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