Medscape is available in 5 Language Editions – Choose your Edition here.



  • Author: Prasad Devarajan, MD, FAAP; Chief Editor: Craig B Langman, MD  more...
Updated: Oct 07, 2015


Myoglobinuria is usually the result of rhabdomyolysis or muscle destruction. Any process that interferes with the storage or use of energy by muscle cells can lead to myoglobinuria. The release of myoglobin from muscle cells is often associated with an increase in levels of creatine kinase (CK), aldolase, lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), serum glutamic-pyruvic transaminase (SGPT), and other enzymes. When excreted into the urine, myoglobin, a monomer containing a heme molecule similar to hemoglobin, can precipitate, causing tubular obstruction and acute kidney injury.

A clinician caring for a patient with crush injuries or other causes of muscle destruction must recognize the presence and severity of myoglobinuria and initiate aggressive hydration to prevent acute kidney injury.

The most common causes of myoglobinuria in adults are trauma, alcohol and drug abuse, usually in relation to muscle necrosis from prolonged immobilization and pressure by the body weight. Prolonged ethanol consumption and seizure activity, similar to excessive physical activity, can produce an imbalance between muscle energy consumption and production, resulting in muscle destruction. In children and adolescents, the most common causes of rhabdomyolysis and myoglobinuria are viral myositis, trauma, exertion, drug overdose,[1] seizures, metabolic disorders, and connective tissue disease.



Myoglobin is released from muscle tissue by cell destruction and alterations in the permeability of the skeletal muscle cell membrane.[2, 3, 4] Under normal conditions, the sodium potassium ATPase pump maintains a very low intracellular sodium content. A separate sodium-calcium channel then serves to pump additional sodium into the cell in exchange for calcium extrusion from the cell. In addition, most intracellular calcium is normally sequestered within organelles. Damage to muscle cells interferes with both mechanisms, leading to an increase in free ionized calcium in the cytoplasm. The high intracellular calcium activates numerous calcium-dependent enzymes that further break down the cell membrane, leading to the release of intracellular contents such as myoglobin and creatine kinase into the circulation. A model of the helical domains of myoglobin is shown in the image below.

Model of helical domains in myoglobin. Model of helical domains in myoglobin.

Myoglobin is a dark-red, 17,8-kDa, monomeric heme protein that contains iron in its ferrous (Fe+2) form.[3] It is easily filtered by the glomerulus and is rapidly excreted into the urine. Plasma levels of myoglobin rapidly fall after its release. When large amounts of myoglobin enter the renal tubule lumen, it interacts with the Tamm-Horsfall protein and precipitates; this is a process favored by acidic urine. Tubule obstruction principally occurs at the level of the distal tubule. In addition, reactive oxygen species generated by damage to both muscle and kidney epithelial cells promote the oxidation of ferrous oxide to ferric oxide (Fe+3), thus generating a hydroxyl radical. Both the heme moieties and the free iron-driven hydroxyl radicals may be critical mediators of the direct tubule toxicity, which mainly occurs in the proximal tubule.

Thus, the precipitation of myoglobin in the renal tubules with secondary obstruction, tubular toxicity, or both constitutes the primary causes for acute kidney injury during myoglobinuria. A higher volume of urine flow and a higher urine alkalinity prevent myoglobin from precipitating as readily as it otherwise does.




United States

The frequency of myoglobinuria varies with the incidence of natural disasters and environmental trauma. Epidemics of viral myositis may temporarily increase the incidence in local areas. In urban areas with a high incidence of drug and alcohol abuse, many patients with myoglobinuria may present to emergency departments. Hot weather increases the incidence of stress induced rhabdomyolysis, especially in young athletes.


Acute kidney injury due to rhabdomyolysis was first described by Bywaters and Beall during World War II; they noted the hypovolemic shock, dark urine, and kidney failure that developed in survivors from the rubbles of the London bombings. Crush injuries related to earthquakes and other natural disasters are the major cause of cases reported internationally. Any person dug from the rubble of such disasters should be considered to have rhabdomyolysis, myoglobinuria, and potential acute renal failure and, therefore, should be given rapid fluid resuscitation.


Myoglobinuria causes little or no morbidity or mortality unless it is associated with the secondary complications of rhabdomyolysis, including hyperkalemia, hypocalcemia, and acute kidney injury.{ Ref2} However, when it is associated with severe rhabdomyolysis, myoglobinuria-induced acute renal failure is a potentially lethal complication.

In adults, rhabdomyolysis can be complicated by acute kidney injury in approximately 30% of patients,[5] with about 5% of those requiring hemodialytic support. In the pediatric age group, although previous small case series reported acute renal failure rates of 40-50%, a large retrospective review indicates that only about 5% of subjects with rhabdomyolysis develop acute kidney injury (defined as a serum creatinine level >97.5 percentile for age and gender).[6] Rhabdomyolysis accounts for or contributes to about 7% of all causes of acute kidney injury in the United States.[7] In both adults and children, the overall mortality rate of acute severe rhabdomyolysis is reported to be 7-8% and is primarily related to acute renal failure and multiorgan failure.


Race is a factor only when natural disasters and economic shortfalls increase the rates of drug and alcohol abuse and the mortality rate among certain racial groups.


Myoglobinuria tends to affect males more than females because of the former group's predisposition to trauma and participation in strenuous physical exercise. Persons who exercise and have increased muscle mass have an increased intracellular myoglobin content.


In a recent large retrospective review, the median age was 11 years.[6] The leading cause of rhabdomyolysis in the 0-9 year age range was viral myositis, whereas the leading diagnosis in the 9-18 year age range was trauma.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Prasad Devarajan, MD, FAAP Louise M Williams Endowed Chair in Pediatrics, Professor of Pediatrics and Developmental Biology, Director of Nephrology and Hypertension, Director of the Nephrology Fellowship Program, Medical Director of the Kidney Stone Center, Co-Director of the Institutional Office of Pediatric Clinical Fellowships, Director of Clinical Nephrology Laboratory, CEO of Dialysis Unit, Department of Pediatrics, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine

Prasad Devarajan, MD, FAAP is a member of the following medical societies: American Heart Association, American Society of Nephrology, American Society of Pediatric Nephrology, National Kidney Foundation, Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Received none from Coinventor on patents submitted for the use of NGAL as a biomarker of kidney injury for none.

Specialty Editor Board

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Frederick J Kaskel, MD, PhD Director of the Division and Training Program in Pediatric Nephrology, Vice Chair, Department of Pediatrics, Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein School of Medicine

Frederick J Kaskel, MD, PhD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, Eastern Society for Pediatric Research, Renal Physicians Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Pediatric Society, American Physiological Society, American Society of Nephrology, American Society of Pediatric Nephrology, American Society of Transplantation, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, International Society of Nephrology, National Kidney Foundation, New York Academy of Sciences, Sigma Xi, Society for Pediatric Research

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Craig B Langman, MD The Isaac A Abt, MD, Professor of Kidney Diseases, Northwestern University, The Feinberg School of Medicine; Division Head of Kidney Diseases, The Ann and Robert H Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago

Craig B Langman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Society of Nephrology, International Society of Nephrology

Disclosure: Received income in an amount equal to or greater than $250 from: Alexion Pharmaceuticals; Raptor Pharmaceuticals; Eli Lilly and Company; Dicerna<br/>Received grant/research funds from NIH for none; Received grant/research funds from Raptor Pharmaceuticals, Inc for none; Received grant/research funds from Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc. for none; Received consulting fee from DiCerna Pharmaceutical Inc. for none.

Additional Contributors

Laurence Finberg, MD Clinical Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine and Stanford University School of Medicine

Laurence Finberg, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Watson C Arnold, MD Director, Department of Pediatric Nephrology, Cook Children's Medical Center

Watson C Arnold, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Medical Quality, American Federation for Medical Research, American Society for Nutritional Sciences, American Society of Nephrology, American Society of Pediatric Nephrology, International Society of Nephrology, Sigma Xi, Southern Society for Pediatric Research, Texas Medical Association, and Texas Pediatric Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

  1. [Guideline] Clarke W, Frost SJ, Kraus E, et al. Renal function testing. Laboratory medicine practice guidelines: evidence-based practice for point-of-care testing. National Academy of Clinical Biochemistry (NACB). 2006. [Full Text].

  2. Chatzizisis YS, Misirli G, Hatzitolios AI, Giannoglou GD. The syndrome of rhabdomyolysis: complications and treatment. Eur J Intern Med. 2008 Dec. 19(8):568-74. [Medline].

  3. Bosch X, Poch E, Grau JM. Rhabdomyolysis and acute kidney injury. N Engl J Med. 2009 Jul 2. 361(1):62-72. [Medline].

  4. Luck RP, Verbin S. Rhabdomyolysis: a review of clinical presentation, etiology, diagnosis, and management. Pediatr Emerg Care. 2008 Apr. 24(4):262-8. [Medline].

  5. Lima RS, da Silva Junior GB, Liborio AB, Daher Ede F. Acute kidney injury due to rhabdomyolysis. Saudi J Kidney Dis Transpl. 2008 Sep. 19(5):721-9. [Medline].

  6. Mannix R, Tan ML, Wright R, Baskin M. Acute pediatric rhabdomyolysis: causes and rates of renal failure. Pediatrics. 2006 Nov. 118(5):2119-25. [Medline].

  7. Elsayed EF, Reilly RF. Rhabdomyolysis: a review, with emphasis on the pediatric population. Pediatr Nephrol. 2009 Jun 16. [Medline].

  8. Fujii K, Minami N, Hayashi Y, et al. Homozygous female Becker muscular dystrophy. Am J Med Genet A. 2009 May. 149A(5):1052-5. [Medline].

  9. Quinlivan R, Jungbluth H. Myopathic causes of exercise intolerance with rhabdomyolysis. Dev Med Child Neurol. 2012 Oct. 54(10):886-91. [Medline].

  10. Stella JJ, Shariff AH. Rhabdomyolysis in a recreational swimmer. Singapore Med J. 2012 Feb. 53(2):e42-4. [Medline].

  11. Mannix R, Tan ML, Wright R, Baskin M. Acute pediatric rhabdomyolysis: causes and rates of renal failure. Pediatrics. 2006 Nov. 118(5):2119-25. [Medline].

  12. Ishiwada N, Takada N, Okunushi T, Hishiki H, Katano H, Nakajima N, et al. Rhabdomyolysis associated with influenza A/H1N1 2009 infection in a pediatric patient. Pediatr Int. 2012 Oct. 54(5):703-5. [Medline].

  13. Coco TJ, Klasner AE. Drug-induced rhabdomyolysis. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2004 Apr. 16(2):206-10. [Medline].

  14. Ceravolo F, Messina S, Rodolico C, Strisciuglio P, Concolino D. Myoglobinuria as first clinical sign of a primary alpha-sarcoglycanopathy. Eur J Pediatr. 2014 Feb. 173 (2):239-42. [Medline].

  15. Barca E, Emmanuele V, DiMauro SB. Metabolic Myoglobinuria. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2015 Oct. 15 (10):590. [Medline].

  16. Huerta-Alardin AL, Varon J, Marik PE. Bench-to-bedside review: Rhabdomyolysis -- an overview for clinicians. Crit Care. 2005 Apr. 9(2):158-69. [Medline].

  17. Scharman EJ, Troutman WG. Prevention of kidney injury following rhabdomyolysis: a systematic review. Ann Pharmacother. 2013 Jan. 47(1):90-105. [Medline].

  18. Brown CV, Rhee P, Chan L, et al. Preventing renal failure in patients with rhabdomyolysis: do bicarbonate and mannitol make a difference?. J Trauma. 2004 Jun. 56(6):1191-6. [Medline].

  19. Dalakas MC. Toxic and drug-induced myopathies. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2009 Aug. 80(8):832-8. [Medline].

  20. David WS. Myoglobinuria. Neurol Clin. 2000 Feb. 18(1):215-43. [Medline].

  21. Fernandez WG, Hung O, Bruno GR, Galea S, Chiang WK. Factors predictive of acute renal failure and need for hemodialysis among ED patients with rhabdomyolysis. Am J Emerg Med. 2005 Jan. 23(1):1-7. [Medline].

  22. Giannoglou GD, Chatzizisis YS, Misirli G. The syndrome of rhabdomyolysis: Pathophysiology and diagnosis. Eur J Intern Med. 2007 Mar. 18(2):90-100. [Medline].

  23. Kilfoyle D, Hutchinson D, Potter H, George P. Recurrent myoglobinuria due to carnitine palmitoyltransferase II deficiency: clinical, biochemical, and genetic features of adult-onset cases. N Z Med J. 2005 Feb 25. 118(1210):U1320. [Medline].

  24. Lin AC, Lin CM, Wang TL, Leu JG. Rhabdomyolysis in 119 students after repetitive exercise. Br J Sports Med. 2005 Jan. 39(1):e3. [Medline].

  25. Malinoski DJ, Slater MS, Mullins RJ. Crush injury and rhabdomyolysis. Crit Care Clin. 2004 Jan. 20(1):171-92. [Medline].

  26. Melli G, Chaudhry V, Cornblath DR. Rhabdomyolysis: an evaluation of 475 hospitalized patients. Medicine (Baltimore). 2005 Nov. 84(6):377-85. [Medline].

  27. Ocana J, Echarri R, Liano F. Rhabdomyolysis. Am J Kidney Dis. 2006 Jan. 47(1):A32, e1-2. [Medline].

  28. Sharp LS, Rozycki GS, Feliciano DV. Rhabdomyolysis and secondary renal failure in critically ill surgical patients. Am J Surg. 2004 Dec. 188(6):801-6. [Medline].

  29. Scalco RS, Gardiner AR, Pitceathly RD, Zanoteli E, Becker J, Holton JL, et al. Rhabdomyolysis: a genetic perspective. Orphanet J Rare Dis. 2015 May 2. 10:51. [Medline].

Model of helical domains in myoglobin.
All material on this website is protected by copyright, Copyright © 1994-2016 by WebMD LLC. This website also contains material copyrighted by 3rd parties.