Hyperkalaemia in patients in hospital

N Z Med J. 1989 Oct 25;102(878):557-8.


A survey of all laboratory blood specimens with a plasma potassium concentration greater than or equal to 5.5 mmol/L was conducted over a three month period. Of 331 specimens with hyperkalaemia, 71 were excluded because the specimens was haemolysed, old or contaminated. The laboratory served a population of 348,561 and during this time measured the plasma potassium on 25,016 occasions. Sixty-six outpatients and 20 neonates were not evaluated. The survey was undertaken on 86 of 102 inpatients (46 males), 48 of whom were over 66 years of age. Fifty-seven patients were admitted under a medical service and 29 under a surgical service. Fifty-nine had a single episode of hyperkalaemia. Thirty-two underwent a surgical procedure. The commonest contributing factor was impaired renal function which was present in 71 (83%) patients. Although a definitive causative role for drugs could be identified in only five patients, in 52 (60%) patients drugs were a contributing factor (potassium supplements 24, ACE inhibitors 16, nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs 12). Thirty-five of the 86 (41%) patients died during their hospital admission. Nineteen of the 35 deaths occurred within three days of the hyperkalaemia being recorded. A normal plasma potassium was eventually documented in 50 of the 86 patients. Of the remaining 36 patients, 25 (69%) subsequently died. In general the treatment of patients with hyperkalaemia focused on identifying and treating the underlying cause. Hyperkalaemia must always be considered seriously and regard given to the overall clinical status of the patient, with particular attention to drug therapy, renal and cardiac function, acid base status and the possibility of sepsis.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Hospitalization*
  • Humans
  • Hyperkalemia / epidemiology*
  • Hyperkalemia / etiology
  • Hyperkalemia / mortality
  • Hyperkalemia / therapy
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Medical Audit
  • Middle Aged
  • New Zealand / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sampling Studies
  • Time Factors