Given a lack of standardization, it's not surprising that different doctors treat hyperkalemia in different ways. The new 2005 CPR guidelines from the American Heart Association provide recommendations for the treatment of hyperkalemia. Unfortunately, while these new guidelines are easy to follow, there are many potential problems, and I offer some criticisms.
For mild elevations (5 - 6 mEq/L), in addition to dietary and medication changes, the guidelines recommend removal of potassium from the body with
- Furosemide 40 - 80 mg IV. In my opinion, especially for slight elevations, in most cases intravenous diuretics are unnecessary, and oral furosemide could be just as easily substituted.
- Kayexalate 15 to 30 g orally in sorbitol (or by enema). While kayexalate is an important treatment for hyperkalemia, in my opinion, giving kayexalate routinely for any potassium elevation over 5 is a bad practice. It is often unnecessary and physicians frequently overlook the cramping, diarrhea, and discomfort it causes patients. Rarely, kayexalate in powdered form (which doesn't cause diarrhea) or occasionally florinef can be given to outpatients.
- Glucose plus insulin (10 units of regular insulin and an amp of D50).
- Sodium bicarbonate 50 mEq IV over 5 minutes. In my opinion, for patients without metabolic acidosis, this is unlikely to be effective.
- Nebulized albuterol (10 to 20 mg) over 15 minutes. In my opinion, while this is an effective and rapid treatment for hyperkalemia, there are many patients with tachycardia or coronary artery disease who should not be given albuterol.
- The guidelines do not explicitly suggest treating moderate potassium elevations with kayexalate or furosemide, but these should also be routine treatments in my opinion.
- Calcium chloride 10%, 500 to 1000 mg (5 to 10 ml) IV over 2 to 5 minutes. Previously, many guidelines recommended 1 amp of calcium gluconate, which has about 1/3 the elemental calcium of calcium chloride. The common wisdom was that giving calcium chloride this rapidly had the potential to provoke arrythmias which outweighed the benefit of preventing arrythmias. Therefore, I found the recommendation to use calcium chloride (rather than gluconate) puzzling.
- Sodium bicarbonate 50 mEq IV over 5 minutes. See the above caveat.
- Glucose plus insulin (10 units of regular insulin and an amp of D50). In my opinion, this should be administered before sodium bicarbonate.
- Nebulized albuterol (10 to 20 mg over 15 minutes). See the caution about albuterol above.
- Furosemide 40 to 80 mg IV.
- Kayexalate 15 to 50 g in sorbitol orally or by enema. Kayexalate generally takes hours to work, so in my opinion, kayexalate should never be given to patients with severe hyperkalemia unless suggested by a nephrologist. Many patients with severe hyperkalemia require dialysis, which usually works faster than kayexalate. Being on dialysis with severe diarrhea from a medication you never needed is an unhappy experience for a patient.
- Dialysis is the ultimate treatment for hyperkalemia. Patients with end stage renal disease are routinely emergently dialyzed with severe hyperkalemia. For other patients with severe hyperkalemia due to acute renal failure (or other causes) the decision to dialyze is sometimes complicated and depends largely on the reversibility of the condition. Sometimes, patients with mild and moderate elevations of potassium are also treated with dialysis, depending on the situation.
(This post is for informational purposes only. Please see the disclaimer.)
Technorati Tags: Hyperkalemia, Nephrology, CPR, CPR Guidelines