Electrolyte and acid-base disturbances in the management of leukemia

Blood. 1977 Mar;49(3):345-53.


Electrolyte disturbances in leukemia can be the result of the disease process or drug therapy. One group of electrolyte abnormalities is related to the stage of the leukemic process. Included in this group are newly diagnosed patients who may show elevated serum potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium--a result of their release from malignant cells after cytotoxic therapy or their accumulation due to urate nephropathy. Patients in remission usually have normal serum electrolyte concentrations, but acute leukemia patients during relapse may have hypokalemia, hypophosphatemia, and hypomagnesemia. This imbalance may be related to cellular uptake of these electrolytes in the presence of inadequate dietary intake. Other factors contributing to electrolyte derangements, and related to the leukemic process, include hyponatremia and hypochloremia secondary to the SIADH, hypokalemia in acute monocytic or acute myelomonocytic leukemia due to lysozyme-induced tubular damage, hypercalcemia possibly secondary to leukemic infiltration of bone or parathyroid glands (with PTH release), or production of a PTH-like substance by leukemic cells. Nonspecific factors related to the disease process which may aggravate the electrolyte imbalance include gastrointestinal loss through nausea, vomiting, and malnutrition. The drug-related electrolyte abnormalities include cyclophosphamide- and vincristine-induced SIADH; decreased serum sodium, chloride, potassium, and calcium concentrations as a result of polymyxin B nephrotoxicity; hypokalemia and hypomagnesemia secondary to amphotericin B; hypocalcemia, hypophosphatemia, and hyperphosphaturia due to L-asparaginase-induced hypoparathyroidism; hypokalemia due to a nonreabsorbable anion effect of antibiotics in the distal tubule or changes in membrane ionic transport of all cells by large doses of antibiotics. Electrolyte disturbance in leukemia thus have a multifactorial pathogenesis which can best be delineated according to the stage of the leukemic process and the drugs being used. Recognition of the cause or causes in a particular patient is essential for an effective approach to management. This review emphasizes the need for routine measurement of serum electrolytes during all phases of the leukemic process.

MeSH terms

  • Acid-Base Imbalance / complications*
  • Electrolytes*
  • Humans
  • Hypercalcemia / complications
  • Hyperkalemia / complications
  • Hypernatremia / complications
  • Hypocalcemia / complications
  • Hypokalemia / complications
  • Hyponatremia / complications
  • Leukemia / complications*
  • Leukemia, Lymphoid / complications
  • Leukemia, Myeloid / complications
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / complications
  • Magnesium / blood
  • Phosphates / blood


  • Electrolytes
  • Phosphates
  • Magnesium