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Rhabdomyolysis occurs when skeletal muscles are damaged and release myoglobin into the bloodstream. Myoglobin is an iron-containing pigment that can cause severe damage to the kidneys.


Rhabdomyolysis results from any condition that causes significant muscle damage. These include:

  • Certain muscle diseases
  • Severe muscle injuries (eg, crush injury)
  • Overuse of alcohol or illicit drugs
  • Use of some prescription drugs
  • Severe seizures or convulsions
  • Rarely may be caused by extensive surgical procedures using large muscle dividing incisions

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Factors that may increase the risk of muscle damage include:

  • Extreme exertion, such as running a marathon
  • Heat stroke
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Uncontrolled seizure disorder


The most common symptoms include:

  • Dark colored (brown or red) urine
  • Muscle pain
  • Muscle weakness

Other symptoms include:

  • Muscle swelling
  • Back pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

In severe cases, rhabdomyolysis may result in:

  • Kidney damage or failure due to blocked arterial blood flow
  • Multi-organ failure
  • Abnormal heartbeat ( arrhythmia )

Kidney Blood Flow and Function


© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Tests may include:


Treatment may include:


Giving large amounts of fluid is the main treatment. Fluids are usually given directly into a vein by an IV. Hydration helps to quickly flush myoglobin out of the kidneys, in order to restore their function.


Medication may include:

  • Diuretics—to help flush out the kidneys
  • Bicarbonate—to minimize myoglobin's toxic effects


Dialysis is a procedure that uses an artificial kidney machine to filter blood. The clean blood is then returned to your body.


Steps for prevention include:

  • Drink plenty of fluids when:
    • Exercising
    • Sitting or working in hot, humid weather
  • Avoid overuse of alcohol.
  • Avoid illicit drugs.


National Institute of Health, US National Library of Medicine

National Kidney Foundation


Health Canada

The Kidney Foundation of Canada: British Columbia Branch


National Institute of Health website. Available at: http://www.nih.gov/ .

Pathogenesis and Management of Rhabdomyolysis. Hahnemann University School of Medicine; 1998.

US National Library of Medicine website. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov .

Last reviewed March 2008 by Robert E. Leach, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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