We Use Dialysate Potassium Levels That Are Too Low in Hemodialysis

Semin Dial. 2016 Jul;29(4):300-2. doi: 10.1111/sdi.12495. Epub 2016 Apr 8.


Sudden cardiac death accounts for a quarter of all deaths in hemodialysis patients. While this group is at high risk for cardiovascular events, there are certain modifiable factors that have been associated with higher risk of sudden cardiac death. These include short dialysis time, high ultrafiltration rate, and dialysate with a low potassium or calcium concentration. While it is impossible to discern the relative contribution of each of these factors, our review focuses on the role of dialysate potassium concentration in sudden cardiac death. Retrospective studies have identified low potassium dialysate (<2-3 mEq/l) as a risk factor for sudden cardiac death, particularly in patients with predialysis serum potassium concentrations <5 mEq/l. However, patients with predialysis hyperkalemia (≥5.5 mEq/l) may be an exception since a significant association of low potassium dialysate with sudden cardiac death was not observed in this subgroup. Dialysis prescribers must employ alternatives to low dialysate potassium concentrations to achieve potassium control such as increasing dialysis time and frequency, dietary restriction of potassium, prevention and treatment of constipation, discontinuation of medications contributing to hyperkalemia and traditional (or newer, better tolerated) potassium binding resins. Finally, one must also address other factors associated with sudden cardiac death such as short dialysis time, high ultrafiltration rate, and low calcium concentration dialysate.

MeSH terms

  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac
  • Dialysis Solutions / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Hyperkalemia / prevention & control
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / therapy
  • Nephrology / methods*
  • Potassium / blood
  • Potassium / chemistry*
  • Renal Dialysis*
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Dialysis Solutions
  • Potassium