Management of hyperkalaemia

A P Maxwell, K Linden, S O'Donnell, P K Hamilton, G E McVeigh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Hyperkalaemia, an elevated extracellular fluid potassium concentration, is a common electrolyte disorder and is present in 1-10% of hospitalised patients. Elevated serum potassium concentrations are usually asymptomatic but may be associated with electrocardiogram (ECG) changes. Hyperkalaemia occasionally leads to life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias. Prompt recognition of this disorder, patient risk management and administration of appropriate treatment can prevent serious cardiac complications of hyperkalaemia. Further assessment of the underlying basis for hyperkalaemia usually reveals a problem with renal potassium excretion (rather than transcellular shift of potassium or excess potassium intake). Reduced potassium excretion is typically associated with decreased potassium secretion in the aldosterone-sensitive distal nephron of the kidney. Common causes for hyperkalaemia include kidney failure, limited delivery of sodium and water to the distal nephron and drugs that inhibit the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system. Treatment of life-threatening hyperkalaemia (particularly those patients with ECG changes) involves administration of intravenous calcium salts to stabilise the resting cardiac membrane potential. The potassium concentration can be lowered by administration of intravenous insulin combined with an infusion of glucose to stimulate intracellular uptake of potassium. Nebulised β-2 adrenoceptor agonists can augment the effects of intravenous insulin and glucose pending more definitive management of the recurrent hyperkalaemia risk. Additional management steps include stopping further potassium intake and careful review of prescribed drugs that may be adversely affecting potassium homeostasis. Changes to prescribing systems and an agreed institutional protocol for management of hyperkalaemia can improve patient safety for this frequently encountered electrolyte disorder.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-51
Number of pages6
JournalThe journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Albuterol
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Emergency Treatment
  • Glucose
  • Humans
  • Hyperkalemia
  • Incidence
  • Infusions, Intravenous
  • Insulin
  • Potassium
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic


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