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Therapeutic Approach to Hyperkalemia

Kim H.-J. · Han S.-W.
Division of Nephrology, Hanyang University Kuri Hospital, Kuri, Korea Nephron 2002;92(suppl 1):33–40 (DOI:10.1159/000065375)


The foremost step in the initial clinical management of hyperkalemia is to decide whether a hyperkalemic patient requires immediate treatment to avoid a life-threatening situation (serum potassium concentration >6.0 mEq/l and EKG changes). When the decision for urgent treatment of hyperkalemia is based on EKG changes, an important caveat for clinicians is that absent or atypical EKG changes do not exclude the necessity for immediate intervention. Once an urgent situation has being handled with intravenous push of a 10% calcium salt, the initiation of short-term measures can be launched by either a single or combined regimen of the three agents that cause a transcellular shift of potassium – insulin with glucose, β2-agonist (albuterol), and NaHCO3. As the first choice among these available options, we favor an intravenous bolus of 10 units of insulin with 50 ml of 50% glucose alone or in combination with 10–20 mg of albuterol by nebulizer. These can be repeated as required until the institution of hemodialysis. The combination of insulin with glucose and NaHCO3 as an another option needs further clarification for its additive effects. However, NaHCO3 has lost its favor because of its poor efficacy as a potassium-lowering agent when used alone. The next step is to remove potassium from the body – diuretics (furosemide), cation exchange resin (kayexelate) with sorbitol, and dialysis (preferably hemodialysis). The final important step for the managements of hyperkalemia is a long-term plan to prevent its recurrence or worsening. In addition to every effort to elucidate underlying causes and pathophysiologic mechanisms for hyperkalemia, an extensive search must be made to uncover overt or sometimes covert medications that may have led to the development of hyperkalemia. Furthermore, one must obtain detailed dietary and medical history of hyperkalemic patients.


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