Elevated Creatine Kinase

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What is elevated creatine kinase?

Creatine kinase or creatine phosphokinase is an enzyme chiefly found in the brain, skeletal muscles, and heart. An elevated level of creatine kinase is seen in heart attacks, when the heart muscle is damaged, or in conditions that produce damage to the skeletal muscles or brain. Creatine kinase is often incorrectly referred to as creatinine kinase.

There are three different forms of creatine kinase that can be measured: CK-MM (located in the skeletal muscles and heart), CK-MB (mainly located in the heart), and CK-BB (located in the brain). An elevated level of creatine kinase, specifically CK-MB, occurs within hours of a heart attack as the heart muscle cells die. The enzyme level continues to rise for the first 18 to 24 hours after a heart attack and slowly returns to normal after a few days. If creatine kinase is elevated, a more specific test (troponin) can help confirm the presence of a heart attack.

Trauma and other conditions that damage the skeletal muscle are also associated with an elevated creatine kinase level. In some cases the test may be used to detect muscle conditions such as polymyositis (condition characterized by the inflammation of muscles) or to estimate the degree of muscle damage. Stroke and other forms of brain damage can also result in an elevated creatine kinase level.

An elevated creatine kinase can signal a heart attack or other emergency. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have serious symptoms, such as chest pain or pressure and difficulty breathing accompanied by profuse sweating and rapid heart rate (tachycardia); or paralysis; sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body; or confusion or loss of consciousness, even for a brief moment.

What other symptoms might occur with elevated creatine kinase?

Elevated creatine kinase may accompany other symptoms, which can vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.

Cardiac symptoms that may occur along with elevated creatine kinase

Elevated creatine kinase may accompany other symptoms of a heart attack including:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Pain that radiates to the jaw or down the arm
  • Profuse sweating
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)

Other symptoms that may occur along with elevated creatine kinase

Elevated creatine kinase may accompany symptoms that are related to other body systems including:

  • Confusion or loss of consciousness, even for a brief moment
  • Garbled or slurred speech
  • Loss of vision or vision changes
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Paralysis
  • Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body
  • Weakness (loss of strength)

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life threatening condition

An elevated creatine kinase can signal a heart attack or other serious condition. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have serious symptoms including:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Confusion or loss of consciousness, even for a brief moment
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Paralysis
  • Profuse sweating
  • Radiating pain to the arm or face
  • Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body
  • Vision loss or vision changes

What causes elevated creatine kinase?

Elevated creatine kinase levels are present when there is destruction of cardiac or skeletal muscle. Creatine kinase levels can also be increased in brain injury, such as stroke. The elevation is detected through a simple blood test.

Causes of elevated creatine kinase

Elevated creatine kinase may be caused by conditions including:

  • Brain injury
  • Delirium tremens (severe alcohol withdrawal)
  • Muscle diseases such as dermatomyositis, polymyositis or muscular dystrophy
  • Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Myocarditis (infection of the middle layer of the heart wall)
  • Rhabdomyolysis (muscle destruction)
  • Stroke
  • Trauma

Questions for diagnosing the cause of elevated creatine kinase

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your elevated creatine kinase including:

  • Are you experiencing any other symptoms?
  • Do you have any chest pain?
  • Have you sustained any recent injuries?

What are the potential complications of elevated creatine kinase?

Because elevated creatine kinase can be due to serious underlying diseases or conditions, failure to seek treatment can result in significant complications and even permanent damage. Once your doctor has determined the underlying cause of your elevated creatine kinase, it is very important to carefully follow the recommended treatment plan in order to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Brain damage
  • Disability
  • Heart failure
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 4
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. CK. Lab Tests Online. http://www.labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/ck/glance.html
  2. Creatine phosphokinase test. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003503.htm