Rhabdomyolysis is a breakdown of muscle tissue. This causes a protein called myoglobin to be released into the bloodstream. These proteins can cause severe damage to the kidneys.


The muscle damage may be caused by:

  • Excessive muscle activity
  • Certain muscle diseases
  • Severe muscle injuries such as a crush injury
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Uncontrolled seizure disorder
  • Body is too cold—hypothermia
  • Body is too hot—heat stroke
  • Electrical burns
  • Poison from a snake or spider bite
  • Prior surgery with large, muscle incisions—rare

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

  • Extreme activity, such as running a marathon
  • Heat stroke
  • Use of some prescription drugs
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Severe seizures


Common problems are:

  • Urine that is brown or red in color
  • Muscle pain, weakness, or swelling
  • Back pain
  • Nausea or vomiting

Anatomy of the Kidney

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You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. This may be enough to suspect the diagnosis.

The diagnosis can be confirmed with:

  • Blood tests to look for signs of muscle damage
  • Urine tests to look for myoglobin


The underlying cause will need to be treated. Choices are:

  • IV fluids to flush the protein out of the kidneys
  • Bicarbonate medicine to minimize the effect of the protein
  • Dialysis to filter blood when the kidneys are not working well


There are no known guidelines to prevent this health problem.


Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
National Kidney Foundation


The Kidney Foundation of Canada


Rhabdomyolysis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/rhabdomyolysis. Accessed November 30, 2020.
Torres PA, Helmstetter JA, Kaye AM, Kaye AD. Rhabdomyolysis: Pathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment. Ochsner J. 2015;15(1):58-69.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 4/23/2021

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