JOURNAL ARTICLE
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Can physicians detect hyperkalemia based on the electrocardiogram?

OBJECTIVE: Although there is no consensus on how to use an electrocardiogram (ECG) in patients with hyperkalemia, physicians often obtain it in the acute setting when diagnosing and treating hyperkalemia. The objective of this study is to evaluate if physicians are able to detect hyperkalemia based on the ECG.

METHODS: The study was conducted at a large county hospital with a population of end stage renal disease (ESRD) patients who received hemodialysis (HD) solely on an emergent basis. Five hundred twenty eight ECGs from ESRD patients were evaluated. The prevalence of hyperkalemia was approximately 60% in this cohort, with at least half of them in the severe hyperkalemia range (K ≥ 6.5 mEq/L).

RESULTS: The mean sensitivity and specificity of the emergency physicians detecting hyperkalemia were 0.19 (± 0.16) and 0.97(± 0.04) respectively. The mean positive predictive value of evaluators for detecting hyperkalemia was 0.92 (±0.13) and the mean negative predictive value was 0.46 (± 0.05). In severe hyperkalemia (K ≥ 6.5 mEq/L), the mean sensitivity improved to 0.29 (± 0.20), while specificity decreased to 0.95 (±0.07).

CONCLUSION: An ECG is not a sensitive method of detecting hyperkalemia and should not be relied upon to rule it out. However, the ECG has a high specificity for detecting hyperkalemia and could be used as a rule in test.

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