J Emerg Med. 2021 Jan 7:S0736-4679(20)31329-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2020.11.028. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: The normal range for potassium is within narrow limits. Hyperkalemia is an electrolyte disorder that frequently affects patients in the emergency department (ED), and can result in significant morbidity and mortality if not identified and treated rapidly.
OBJECTIVE: This article provides an evidence-based narrative review of the management of hyperkalemia, with focused updates for the emergency clinician.
METHODS: We searched in MEDLINE, EMBASE, Web of Science, and Scopus databases for articles in English published in peer-reviewed journals and indexed up until May 2020. We used multiple search terms, including hyperkalemia, potassium, acute hyperkalemia, emergency department, dyskalemia, potassium disorders, kidney disease, epidemiology, electrolyte disturbance, severe hyperkalemia, and emergency management.
DISCUSSION: In the ED, interventions aimed to protect patients from the immediate dangers of elevated serum potassium are divided into the following: stabilizing cardiac membrane potentials, reducing serum potassium levels through shift from the extracellular fluid to intracellular fluid, and elimination of potassium through excretion via urinary or fecal excretion. Calcium is widely recommended to stabilize the myocardial cell membrane, but additional research is necessary to establish criteria for use, dosages, and preferred solutions. Redistribution of potassium ions from the bloodstream into the cells is based on intravenous insulin or nebulized β2-agonists.
CONCLUSIONS: Hyperkalemia is a frequent electrolyte disorder in the ED. Because of the risk of fatal dysrhythmia due to cardiac membrane instability, hyperkalemia is a medical emergency. There is a lack of scientific evidence on the optimal management of hyperkalemia and more research is needed to establish optimal strategies to manage acute hyperkalemia in the emergency department.