Rhabdomyolysis caused 28 out of 903 (3.1%) of cases of severe acute renal failure (ARF) treated at Leeds General Infirmary over a 14-year period (1980-1993). The commonest cause of rhabdomyolysis was muscle compression, usually due to drug- or alcohol-induced coma. Other causes included fits, infection, acute limb ischemia, trauma, and heat stroke. Prognosis was relatively good, with a 78.6% survival rate and recovery of renal function to normal in all survivors who were followed up. The creatinine/urea ratio was higher in ARF due to rhabdomyolysis than in an unselected group of patients with other causes of ARF but not when the comparison was with sex- and age-matched controls with ARF. This suggests that this previously described feature of rhabdomyolysis simply reflects the increased muscle mass of a younger group of patients, rather than a specific effect of muscle damage. Clinical features of muscle damage were often absent and so the possibility of rhabdomyolysis should be considered in appropriate settings if the diagnosis is to be made early enough to administer treatment that may prevent ARF and the consequences of the compartment syndrome.