Journal Article

Severe hyperkalaemia: demographics and outcome

B.M. Phillips, S. Milner, S. Zouwail, G. Roberts, M. Cowan, S.G. Riley and A.O. Phillips

in Clinical Kidney Journal

Published on behalf of European Renal Association - European Dialysis and Transplant Assoc

Volume 7, issue 2, pages 127-133
Published in print April 2014 | ISSN: 1753-0784
Published online January 2014 | e-ISSN: 1753-0792 | DOI:

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Few studies have evaluated the prevalence of severe hyperkalaemia in unselected patient populations. We identified all episodes of severe hyperkalaemia occurring in 1 year, and described patient demographics, clinical response and outcome. We also assessed junior doctor knowledge of its causes and significance.

Materials and methods

A retrospective interrogation of the database of the regional biochemical laboratory identified all episodes of severe hyperkalaemia (K≥ 6.5 mmol/L) occurring in 2011. The understanding of trainee doctors of the importance, causes and treatment of severe hyperkalaemia was assessed by structured questionnaire.


Severe hyperkalaemia was recorded in 433 samples (365 patients) giving a prevalence of 0.11%. Thirty-six per cent of episodes occurred in patients under the care of a nephrologist, who were significantly younger than those not under the care of a nephrologist. In the nephrology cohort, 86% occurred in patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD), the majority of which had CKD Stage 5. In the non-nephrology cohort, only 65% occurred in the context of CKD, which was equally distributed between Stages 3 and 5 CKD. In both patient groups, roughly 50% of episodes occurred in association with acute kidney injury (AKI). Acute mortality (death within 48 h of documented severe hyperkalaemia) was higher in the non-nephrology compared with the nephrology cohort. Time to repeat serum potassium was influenced by the clinical setting with shorter time to repeat for acute care compared with ward settings. Assessment of trainee doctor's knowledge suggested significant deficiencies in relation to severe hyperkalaemia.


The prevalence of severe hyperkalaemia was low and occurred predominantly in the context of CKD and/or AKI. The majority of episodes occurred in patients not under the care of a nephrologist. Variability in time to repeat serum potassium levels suggested deficiencies in care, and assessment of trainee doctor’s knowledge suggests the need for further educational initiatives to highlight its importance.

Keywords: AKI; CKD; hyperkalaemia; potassium

Journal Article.  5068 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Nephrology

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