Thursday, April 9, 2009

What's new with hyperkalemia: EKG changes

Today I did a lecture for the fellows on hyperkalemia. It is interesting that nearly none of the content I use to teach the residents and students is used in a lecture for the fellows. Same subject complete rewrite.

I plan on doing four posts on hyperkalemia from this lecture:
  1. EKG changes
  2. Dialysis patients and hyperkalema
  3. Digoxen toxicity and hyperkalemia
  4. Renal adaptation to ACEi and aldo antagonists in CKD
The lecture started off with the case I blogged about last week with the scary EKG and the potassium of 9.9.

I focused on a well done study (Full Text) by Drs Montague, Ouellette and Buller from Yale. They looked at 90 patients with a potassium grreater than 6 and an EKG done within an hour of the potassium. They excluded hemolyzed specimens and patients with cardiac pacing or other conditions which would mask EKG changes.

They graded all the EKGs according to a prospective criteria and recorded the cardiologists assessment.
The average patient was 73 years old (20-93) and half had acute kidney injury (55%) and half had chronic kidney disease (47%). They did not comment on the degree of overlap between those groups. Half the patients had diabetes (55%). Only 31% were on ACEi and 30% on loop diuretics.

The reading cardiologist documented peaked T waves in only 3 of 90 patients with hyperkalemia. The investigators were able to find peaked T waves in only 29. QRS widening was found in only 6 patients. Of the 52 patients who could have been classified as having "Strict Criteria" (you needed a second EKG after resolution of the hyperkalemia and not everyone in the cohort had a second EKG) only 16 actually met strict criteria.
The authors found EKG criteria to be insensitive predictors of hyperkalemia:
  • Sensitivity of strict criteria: 18%
  • Sensitivity of any EKG change 52%
Interestingly, they found that acidosis decreased the likelihood of finding peaked T-waves.

When they looked at arrhythmias as an outcome, EKG changes continued to be a poor clinical guide. They were not sensitive: only one of the patients who subsequently developed an arrhythmia or cardiac arrest had previously met the strict criteria for EKG changes and only 7 had any T-wave findings at all. This is important because it emphasizes the fact that you can not be reassured by a normal EKG in a patient with hyperkalemia.

The study was unable to look at specificity because all of the patients had hyperkalemia. An earlier study by Wrenn, Slovis and Slovis was able to look at sensitivity and specificity because they did have patients without hyperkalemia in their cohort. They retrospectively reviewed the EKGs of 220 patients with either renal failure (n=133) or hyperkalemia (n=87):
  • Sensitivity: 39%
  • Specificity: 85%
When they restricted the cohort to patients with a potassium over 6.5 the sensitivity rose to 58%.

Take home message: a normal EKG should not rule out hyperkalemia and should not decerase your concearn for impending arrhythmia.

Here is the lecture this post is based on:
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