Patient Test Information

Myoglobin

Also known as:

Urine Myoglobin; Serum Myoglobin

Formal name:

Myoglobin

Related tests:

CK, CK-MB, Troponin, Cardiac Biomarkers

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Why Get Tested?

To determine whether muscle has been injured; to help diagnose conditions associated with muscle damage; to detect high levels in the urine that can cause kidney damage after extensive muscle damage; sometimes to help determine if you have had a heart attack, although for heart attack detection, this test has been largely replaced by troponin.

When to Get Tested?

When you have muscle weakness, muscle aches, and/or dark urine and your healthcare provider suspects muscle damage; when there has been severe traumatic injury to skeletal muscle

Sample Required?

A blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm or a random urine sample

Test Preparation Needed?

None

How is it used?

A myoglobin blood test may be used detect muscle damage. Myoglobin is a small, oxygen-binding protein found in heart and skeletal muscle. When heart or skeletal muscle is injured, myoglobin is released into the blood. Blood levels of myoglobin can rise very quickly with severe muscle damage and can be measured within a few hours following an injury.

Myoglobin is filtered from the blood by the kidneys and is released into the urine. Sometimes, a urine test is ordered to evaluate myoglobin levels in people who have had extensive damage to their skeletal muscles (rhabdomyolysis). Urine myoglobin levels reflect the degree of muscle injury and, since myoglobin is toxic to the kidneys, reflect the risk of kidney damage.

Sometimes, a myoglobin blood test may be used along with a troponin test as a cardiac biomarker to help detect a heart attack early, but in the U.S., it is used less frequently for this purpose.

The level of myoglobin in the blood starts to rise within 2-3 hours of a heart attack or other muscle injury, reaches its highest levels within 8-12 hours, and generally falls back to normal within one day. An increase in myoglobin is detectable sooner than troponin, but it is not as specific for heart damage and it will not stay elevated as long as troponin.

Although a negative myoglobin result effectively rules out a heart attack, a positive result must be confirmed by testing for troponin.

When is it ordered?

This test may be ordered when a person has experienced damage to muscles caused by, for example, trauma or muscular dystrophy.

Myoglobin is not widely used for diagnosing heart attacks because it has largely been replaced by Troponin, which is much more specific. If the myoglobin test is available, it may be ordered to assess persons with chest pain who are suspected of having a heart attack. Blood samples are drawn when a person with signs and symptoms, such as chest pain, first arrives at the emergency room, followed by a series of tests done over several hours.

Urine myoglobin may be ordered when there has been extensive injury to skeletal muscle, resulting in the rapid breakdown of muscle, and damage to the kidneys is suspected.

What does the test result mean?

An increase in blood myoglobin means that there has been very recent injury to muscle tissue. Increased levels can occur, for example, in people who have had:

  • Accidents that result in muscle trauma  
  • Seizures
  • Surgery
  • Any muscle disease, such as muscular dystrophy
  • Inflammation of skeletal muscles (myositis)
  • heart attack

A significantly elevated level of myoglobin may be caused by rhabdomyolysis.

Myoglobin levels are normally very low or not detectable in the urine. High levels of urine myoglobin indicate an increased risk for kidney damage and failure. Additional tests, such as BUN, creatinine, and urinalysis, are done to monitor kidney function in these people.

When used as a cardiac biomarker, an increase in blood myoglobin may mean that a heart attack has occurred recently but because myoglobin is also found in skeletal muscle, a troponin test is required for confirmation. If myoglobin does not increase within 12 hours following the onset of chest pain, a heart attack is very unlikely.

Is there anything else I should know?

Increased myoglobin levels can occur after muscle injections or strenuous exercise. Because the kidneys remove myoglobin from the blood, the myoglobin level may be high in people whose kidneys are failing. Heavy alcohol consumption and certain drugs can also cause muscle injury and increase myoglobin in the blood.

A urine dipstick test for hemoglobin can also be positive in the presence of myoglobin. If the urine dipstick test is positive and myoglobin is suspected to be the cause, it should be followed up with more specific testing for myoglobin.

What is being tested?

Myoglobin is a small, oxygen-binding protein found in heart and skeletal muscles. It traps oxygen within muscle cells, allowing the cells to produce the energy required for muscular contraction. When heart or skeletal muscle is injured, myoglobin is released into the blood. Elevated levels can be measured within a few hours following an injury.

Myoglobin is filtered from the blood by the kidneys and is released into the urine. Large quantities of myoglobin are toxic to the kidneys. If significant amounts of myoglobin are released into the bloodstream, which can happen after severe trauma or muscle injuries, the excess myoglobin may cause damage to the kidneys and eventually result in kidney failure. Measurement of myoglobin in urine helps to detect this condition.

How is the sample collected for testing?

A blood sample is taken by needle from a vein in the arm or a random urine sample is collected.

NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.

Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No test preparation is needed.

  1. What is rhabdomyolysis?

    Rhabdomyolysis is the rapid breakdown of muscle tissue. This condition can be caused by serious injury to muscles from a number of different sources. Examples include:

    • Trauma, crushing injuries such as car accidents
    • Electrical shock from a high-voltage sources
    • Serious and/or extensive burns
    • Blood clot (thrombosis) that blocks blood flow to tissues and organs
    • Exposure to toxins such as heavy metals, snake venom, or carbon monoxide
    • Infections such as HIV, influenza, Streptococcus (this can more commonly occur in children than adults)
    • Genetic or metabolic disorders that affect muscles
    • Diseases such as muscular dystrophy or underlying conditions such as diabetes that is not well controlled, hypothyroidism, or hyperthyroidism
    • Several drugs

    Complications can occur when, after the muscle is damaged, the cells release their contents rapidly into the blood. This has been known to cause damage to kidneys (acute kidney injury, AKI) and disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). Once this condition is diagnosed and depending on the severity, a person with rhabdomyolysis may be treated with intravenous fluids and other supportive care. Other procedures may be done to protect the person's organs. For example, the person may undergo dialysis to prevent and/or limit damage to the kidneys.

  2. What drugs can cause rhabdomyolysis?

    Some examples include:

    • Drugs of abuse such as alcohol (ethanol), heroin and cocaine
    • Antibiotics (amphotericin B, ampicillin)
    • Anesthetics
    • Antidepressants
    • Antihistamines
    • Aspirin (salicylates)
    • Corticosteroids
    • Lidocaine
    • Lithium
    • Statins (used to treat high cholesterol)
    • Theophylline
  3. Should everyone with muscle pain and weakness have a myoglobin test?

    General, routine testing for myoglobin is usually not necessary. Muscle pain and weakness are common symptoms of many temporary conditions that go away without specific treatment. However, if someone is taking a drug or has been exposed to a substance that has been linked with potential muscle damage, then testing may be warranted.

  4. If I have chest pain, does that mean I am having a heart attack?

    Many other problems can cause chest pain and it is not always possible to tell from the type of chest pain whether or not you are having a heart attack. Many people have chest pain from straining the muscles in their chest, from problems with the esophagus or stomach (heartburn), and with some lung problems. Chest pain can be a warning sign of hardening of the arteries of the heart (coronary artery disease, CAD).

    Chest pain that occurs during exercise, hard work, or at times of stress, lasts for a few minutes and goes away with rest is called angina. If the pain lasts longer than just a few minutes, especially if it occurs when you are resting, seek immediate medical attention.