Assessing the performance of a continuous infusion for potassium supplementation in the critically ill.
Hypokalaemia is a common problem in critically ill patients, which if untreated, can result in dysrhythmia or another adverse outcome. We assessed the safety and efficacy of a continuous infusion of potassium chloride versus an existing intermittent infusion regimen. In this open-label randomised parallel-arm active-controlled pilot study, critically ill adults with plasma potassium concentration between 2.5 and 3.8 mmol/l were randomised to receive either a continuous infusion or intermittent infusions of potassium chloride for establishment and maintenance of normokalaemia. The primary outcome was the mean difference in plasma potassium concentration over time between the two study arms as assessed by a linear mixed-effects model. Although a statistically significant difference was observed (0.22 mmol/l; 95% confidence interval 0.17, 0.27; P <0.0001), this did not reach the pre-determined level indicative of a treatment effect (0.5 mmol/l). The continuous group demonstrated less variance in (mean) plasma potassium as reflected in narrower confidence intervals in a prediction-by-time model. The incidence rate ratio of dysrhythmia, assessed by a mixed-effects Poisson model, was similar in each group (0.62; 95% confidence interval 0.32, 1.21; P=0.16). We recorded no adverse events directly attributable to infusion of potassium chloride in either study arm. Although titrated continuous infusion did not demonstrate a clinically important difference by comparison with intermittent infusions for the maintenance of normokalaemia, there was more consistent control of plasma potassium with no observed complications or adverse events. Therefore, this trial showed an acceptable efficacy and safety profile for the continuous infusion regimen, suggesting scope for further study.