Extreme Hyperkalemia

H A. Tran, MD


South Med J. 2005;98(7):729-732. 

In This Article


Hyperkalemia is a potentially fatal condition and is defined by a serum potassium level (K+) of greater than 5.5 mmol/L. The associated prevalence of cardiac arrhythmia increases directly with the degree of hyperkalemia. The danger in the majority of hyperkalemia cases is cardiac dysrhythmia, and often ventricular fibrillation or asystole is the terminating event. Although there are many previous reports addressing this threatening problem and associated therapeutic maneuvers, there have not been many previous reports citing the fatal concentration of hyperkalemia irrespective of the causes. However, it is uniformly accepted that a K+ concentration greater than 10.0 mmol/L is fatal unless urgent treatment is instituted. This report describes a case of nonfatal hyperkalemia of 14 mmol/L with intact survival and complete recovery. Potassium homeostasis is revisited, and some explanations are proffered regarding the protective mechanism against hyperkalemia, including transcellular flux, renal tubular function, and endocrine responses.