Back to basics
A closer look at treating electrolyte disorders in the hospital setting.
Electrolyte disorders don’t just happen on the field and get treated with a colorful sports drink. In fact, electrolyte disorders are extremely common in hospital settings and can easily be overlooked. Bradley Sharpe, MD, SFHM, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, will lead a panel discussion on the topic and provide guidance on signs of a problem in the session, “Bright Lytes of Austin: Electrolyte Management for Hospitalists,” 9:30-10:20 a.m., Wednesday.
When a patient presents with signs of hyponatremia, clinicians may have to go back to the drawing board to review the basics, as well as understand the common pitfalls of electrolyte disorders, Dr. Sharpe said.
“The most common electrolyte disorders in hospital medicine are hypokalemia, hyperkalemia, hypomagnesemia, hypercalcemia, and hyperphosphatemia,” he said. “These occur often as a marker of chronic illness or overall degree of illness (as compared to healthy outpatients where electrolyte disorders are much less common).”
Given how common electrolyte disorders are in hospital medicine, Dr. Sharpe said the primary focus of the session will be on "when you need to worry." For example, he said the question becomes, “When are electrolyte disorders dangerous, life-threatening, or a clue to a more serious underlying disorder?” As part of the discussion, he also will present updated research on the management of hyperkalemia.
Dr. Sharpe said there are a few pitfalls when it comes to managing electrolyte disorders in the hospital setting.
“At a high level, I would say [one pitfall is] focusing on repleting and not focusing on the underlying cause [of the disorder],” he said. “Also, the failure to recognize that most potassium is intracellular and cellular shifts in patients are common. And finally, clinicians should not overlook the importance of giving adequate intravenous fluids for the treatment of hypercalcemia."
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