Although the methods for the appropriate management of patients with hyperkalemia are well established, no criteria for hospital admission of patients with this common electrolyte disorder have been promulgated.
To examine the current practices regarding hospitalization of patients with hyperkalemia and to consider appropriate criteria for admission.
Patients and Methods
We evaluated a consecutive series of patients hospitalized for hyperkalemia and excluded patients who developed hyperkalemia after admission. For comparison, we selected a series of patients with a similar degree of hyperkalemia who were treated as outpatients. Hyperkalemia was classified as minimal, moderate, or severe. The causes of hyperkalemia were identified, and the therapeutic maneuvers used were ascertained. Although the study did not have the power to determine the relative safety of the 2 therapeutic approaches, we compared the outcomes of the 2 groups of patients.
The inpatient group consisted of 11 patients who were admitted for the treatment of hyperkalemia, and we identified 12 patients who received outpatient therapy for hyperkalemia. The patients in the 2 treatment groups were similar with respect to age and the values of serum urea nitrogen, creatinine, and potassium prior to the identification of hyperkalemia. The mean ± SD potassium concentrations at baseline were 5.4±0.7 mmol/L in the inpatients and 5.5±0.5 mmol/L in the outpatients. The mean ± SD potassium concentration in the inpatients was 6.7±0.8 mmol/L at the time of hospital admission, compared with 6.7±0.5 mmol/L in the outpatients at the time that hyperkalemia occurred. Similar proportions of both groups (6 of 11 inpatients and 7 of 12 outpatients) had moderate or severe hyperkalemia.
Patients admitted to the hospital were clinically indistinguishable from patients treated as outpatients. The justification for the decision to admit patients to the hospital or to treat them as outpatients was often not evident. We suggest criteria for hospitalization, which include severe hyperkalemia (≥8.0 mmol/L, with changes other than peaked T waves on the electrocardiogram), acute worsening of renal function, and supervening medical problems.