We collected records of all adult patients with potassium (K+) greater than or equal to 6.5 mEq/L in the hospital laboratory database from August 15, 2010, through January 30, 2015. A chart review identified patient demographics, concurrent laboratory values, ECG within one hour of K+ measurement, treatments and occurrence of adverse events within six hours of ECG. We defined adverse events as symptomatic bradycardia, ventricular tachycardia, ventricular fibrillation, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and/or death. Two emergency physicians blinded to study objective independently examined each ECG for rate, rhythm, peaked T wave, PR interval duration and QRS complex duration. Relative risk was calculated to determine the association between specific hyperkalemic ECG abnormalities and short-term adverse events.
We included a total of 188 patients with severe hyperkalemia in the final study group. Adverse events occurred within six hours in 28 patients (15%): symptomatic bradycardia (n=22), death (n=4), ventricular tachycardia (n=2) and CPR (n=2). All adverse events occurred prior to treatment with calcium and all but one occurred prior to K+-lowering intervention. All patients who had a short-term adverse event had a preceding ECG that demonstrated at least one hyperkalemic abnormality (100%, 95% confidence interval [CI] [85.7–100%]). An increased likelihood of short-term adverse event was found for hyperkalemic patients whose ECG demonstrated QRS prolongation (relative risk [RR] 4.74, 95% CI [2.01–11.15]), bradycardia (HR less than 50) (RR 12.29, 95%CI [6.69–22.57]), and/or junctional rhythm (RR 7.46, 95%CI 5.28–11.13). There was no statistically significant correlation between peaked T waves and short-term adverse events (RR 0.77, 95% CI [0.35–1.70]).
It’s an interesting lesson in the fact that all adverse events occurred before calcium was administered. In addition to the points made here, the ECG may also be beneficial in diagnosing hyperkalemia before the labs are back.