The faster potassium-lowering effect of high dialysate bicarbonate concentrations in chronic haemodialysis patients

Nephrol Dial Transplant. 2005 Mar;20(3):591-7. doi: 10.1093/ndt/gfh661. Epub 2005 Feb 1.


Background: Hyperkalaemia is common in patients with advanced renal disease. In this double-blind, randomized, three-sequence, crossover study, we compared the effect of three dialysate bicarbonate concentrations ([HCO3-]) on the kinetics of serum potassium (K+) reduction during a conventional haemodialysis (HD) session in chronic HD patients.

Methods: We studied eight stable HD patients. The choice of dialysate [HCO3-] followed a previously assigned treatment protocol and the [HCO3-] used were low bicarbonate (LB; 27 mmol/l), standard bicarbonate (SB; 35 mmol/l) and high bicarbonate (HB; 39 mmol/l). Polysulphone dialysers and automated machines provided blood flow rates of 300 ml/min and dialysis flow rates of 500 ml/min for each HD session. Blood samples were drawn at 0 (baseline), 15, 30, 60 and 240 min from the arterial extracorporeal line to assess blood gases and serum electrolytes. In three of the eight patients, we measured serum K+ 1 h post-dialysis as well as K+ removal by the dialysis. The same procedures were followed until the completion of the three arms of the study, with a 1 week interval between each experimental arm.

Results: Serum K+ decreased from 5.4+/-0.26 (baseline) to 4.96+/-0.20, 4.90+/-0.19, 4.68+/-0.13 and 4.24+/-0.15 mmol/l at 15, 30, 60 and 240 min, respectively, with LB; from 5.38+/-0.21 to 5.01+/-0.23, 4.70+/-0.25, 4.3+/-0.15 and 3.8+/-0.19 mmol/l, respectively, with SB; and from 5.45+/-0.25 to 4.79+/-0.17, 4.48+/-0.17, 3.86+/-0.16 and 3.34+/-0.11 mmol/l, respectively, with HB (P<0.05 for high vs standard and low [HCO3-] at 60 and 240 min). The decrease in serum K+ correlated with the rise in serum [HCO3-] in all but LB (P<0.05). Potassium rebound was 3.9+/-10.2%, 5.2+/-6.6% and 8.9+/-4.9% for LB, SB and HB dialysates, respectively (P=NS), while total K+ removal (mmol/dialysis) was 116.4+/-21.6 for LB, 73.2+/-12.8 for SB and 80.9+/-15.4 for HB (P=NS).

Conclusions: High dialysate [HCO3-] was associated with a faster decrease in serum K+. Our results strongly suggest that this reduction was due to the enhanced shifting of K+ from the extracellular to the intracellular fluid compartment rather than its removal by dialysis. This finding could have an impact for those patients with life-threatening pre-HD hyperkalaemia.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acid-Base Equilibrium / drug effects
  • Adult
  • Bicarbonates / analysis
  • Bicarbonates / pharmacology*
  • Buffers
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Hemodialysis Solutions / chemistry*
  • Hemodialysis Solutions / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / blood*
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / therapy
  • Middle Aged
  • Potassium / blood*
  • Potassium / pharmacokinetics
  • Renal Dialysis*


  • Bicarbonates
  • Buffers
  • Hemodialysis Solutions
  • Potassium