Hypokalaemia in healthy volunteers after single and multiple doses of formoterol or salbutamol

Clin Drug Investig. 1998;15(6):523-9. doi: 10.2165/00044011-199815060-00009.


A specific beta(2)-adrenoceptor-mediated effect, hypokalaemia, was studied in healthy volunteers after single as well as multiple dosages of the long-acting agonist formoterol and the short-acting agent salbutamol. The purpose of the study was to test with simple methodologies if rapidly induced tachyphylaxis for this well known systemic effect can be shown and if it will then be more pronounced for the long-acting compound. Hypokalaemia induced by inhalation of, respectively, 72microg formoterol and 1200microg of salbutamol was studied before and after 1 week of medication. Potassium-time curves were described by a biexponential equation and also analysed with a deconvolution technique. Both drugs induced a statistically significant hypokalaemia, the duration of this effect being considerably shorter for salbutamol than for formoterol (p < 0.05 with both methods of analysis). After multiple doses for 1 week, both maximal hypokalaemia and the area under the curve of the hypokalaemic effect had decreased after inhalation of formoterol (p < 0.05) but not after inhalation of salbutamol.It was concluded that plasma potassium as an effect measurement can be used to study in a simple but reproducible way differences of pharmacological interest between various beta(2)-adrenoceptor agonists.