The normal fractional urinary excretion of filtered magnesium is about 5%. In magnesium deficiency in man, the kidneys can normally reduce the 24-hour urinary magnesium excretion to less than 1 mmol (24 mg) via unknown mechanisms, and initially without a fall in plasma magnesium concentration. Renal magnesium wasting may be defined as a urinary excretion greater than 1 mmol/day in the presence of hypomagnesemia (plasma magnesium < 0.7 mmol/l). Congenital renal magnesium wasting occurs in several syndromes including Bartter's syndrome in which it is associated with hypercalciuria, and the defect may be in the thick ascending limb of Henle's loop, and Gitelman's syndrome in which there is hypocalciuria, and the defect may be in the distal convoluted tubule. Other causes of renal magnesium wasting include diabetes mellitus, hypercalcemia and diuretics. Magnesium wasting may also result from various toxicities including those of cis-platinum, in which the biochemical features resemble Gitelman's syndrome, and those of aminoglycosides, pentamidine and cyclosporin. Calcitriol deficiency may also contribute to renal magnesium wasting in some circumstances. Mild hypermagnesemia may occur in familial hypocalciuric hypercalcemia and may reflect abnormal sensitivity of the loop of Henle to calcium and magnesium ions. By contrast, the hypermagnesemia that occurs in chronic renal failure results from the reduced glomerular filtration of magnesium.