Potassium Balance in Dialysis Patients


Address correspondence to: Jaime Uribarri, MD, One Gustave L. Levy Place, Nephrology, Box 1243, New York City, NY 10029-6574, or E-mail: Jaime.Uribarri@mssm.edu.


The advent of dialytic therapy has enabled nephrologists to provide life-saving therapy, but potassium balance continues to be an ever present challenge in the ESRD population. Although a small percent of patients are chronically hypokalemic, hyperkalemia is by far the most common abnormality in dialysis patients. It is associated with increased all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality, and arrhythmogenic death. Although alterations of the dialysis bath may decrease predialysis potassium, potassium baths <2 mEq/l are associated with a higher risk of sudden cardiac death. Studies show that patients are aware of the risks of hyperkalemia, but adherence to a low potassium diet is suboptimal. ACEI, ARBs, and spironolactone may cause slight increases in potassium even in anuric patients, requiring increased surveillance. Fludrocortisone and potassium binders have not been proven to be beneficial in lowering interdialytic potassium levels. Frequent hemodialysis may be a viable option, and studies of prophylactic placement of implantable cardioverter/defibrillators are underway.