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Assessment of Hypokalemia and Clinical Characteristics in Patients With Coronavirus Disease 2019 in Wenzhou, China.

JAMA Network Open 2020 June 2
Importance: Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 has caused a global outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 binds angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 of the rennin-angiotensin system, resulting in hypokalemia.

Objective: To investigate the prevalence, causes, and clinical implications of hypokalemia, including its possible association with treatment outcomes, among patients with COVID-19.

Design, Setting, and Participants: This cohort study was conducted at Wenzhou Central Hospital and Sixth People's Hospital of Wenzhou, Wenzhou, China, from January 11, 2020, to February 15, 2020. Participants included patients who received a diagnosis of COVID-19 according to the criteria issued by the Chinese Health Bureau and were admitted to the hospital. The patients were classified as having severe hypokalemia (plasma potassium <3 mmol/L), hypokalemia (plasma potassium 3-3.5 mmol/L), and normokalemia (plasma potassium >3.5 mmol/L). The clinical features, therapy, and outcomes were compared between the 3 groups. Data analysis was conducted in March 2020.

Interventions: The patients were given general support and antiviral therapy. Their epidemiological and clinical features were collected.

Main Outcomes and Measures: The prevalence of hypokalemia and response to treatment with potassium supplements were measured by analyzing plasma and urine potassium levels.

Results: One hundred seventy-five patients (87 female patients [50%]; mean [SD] age, 45 [14] years) were classified as having severe hypokalemia (31 patients [18%]), hypokalemia (64 patients [37%]), and normokalemia (80 patients [46%]). Patients with severe hypokalemia had statistically significantly higher body temperature (mean [SD], 37.6 °C [0.9 °C]) than the patients with hypokalemia (mean [SD], 37.2 °C [0.7 °C]; difference, 0.4 °C; 95% CI, 0.2-0.6 °C; P = .02) and the patients with normokalemia (mean [SD], 37.1 °C [0.8 °C]; difference, 0.5 °C; 95% CI, 0.3-0.7 °C; P = .005). Patients with higher levels of hypokalemia also had higher creatine kinase levels (severe hypokalemia, mean [SD], 200 [257] U/L [median, 113 U/L; interquartile range {IQR}, 61-242 U/L]; hypokalemia, mean [SD], 97 [85] U/L; and normokalemia, mean [SD], 82 [57] U/L), higher creatine kinase-MB fraction (severe hypokalemia, mean [SD], 32 [39] U/L [median, 14 U/L; IQR, 11-36 U/L]; hypokalemia, mean [SD], 18 [15] U/L; and normokalemia, mean [SD], 15 [8] U/L), higher lactate dehydrogenase levels (mean [SD], severe hypokalemia, 256 [88] U/L; hypokalemia, 212 [59] U/L; and normokalemia, 199 [61] U/L), and higher C-reactive protein levels (severe hypokalemia, mean [SD], 29 [23] mg/L; hypokalemia, mean [SD], 18 [20] mg/L [median, 12, mg/L; IQR, 4-25 mg/L]; and normokalemia, mean [SD], 15 [18] mg/L [median, 6 U/L; IQR, 3-17 U/L]). Of 40 severely and critically ill patients, 34 (85%) had hypokalemia. Patients with severe hypokalemia were given potassium at a dose of 40 mEq per day, for a total mean (SD) of 453 (53) mEq potassium chloride, during the hospital stay. The patients responded well to potassium supplements as they recovered.

Conclusions and Relevance: The correction of hypokalemia is challenging because of continuous renal potassium loss resulting from the degradation of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2. The high prevalence of hypokalemia among patients with COVID-19 suggests the presence of disordered rennin-angiotensin system activity, which increases as a result of reduced counteractivity of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, which is bound by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.

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