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Health Information Center


  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:




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, or too hot—heat stroke
  • Electrical burns
  • Poison from a snake or spider bite
  • Prior surgery with large muscle incisions—this is rare

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of rhabdomyolysis are:

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


A person with rhabdomyolysis may have:

  • 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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The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. This may be enough to suspect the rhabdomyolysis.

The diagnosis can be confirmed with:

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


The goal of treating rhabdomyolysis is to get the extra protein out of the kidneys and prevent more damage. The underlying cause will need to be treated. Choices are:

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


There are no known guidelines to prevent rhabdomyolysis.





  • Rhabdomyolysis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/rhabdomyolysis.
  • Torres, P.A., Helmstetter, J.A., et al. Rhabdomyolysis: Pathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment. The Ochsner Journal, 2015; 15 (1): 58-69.


  • Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.