Acute Physical and Occupational Therapy and Serum Potassium: When Is It Safe?

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J Acute Care Phys Ther


Purpose: High or low serum potassium (K+) levels are associated with increased risk of cardiac arrhythmias. No research-based guidelines or suggested values for K+ in regard to safe provision of physical therapist (PT) and occupational therapist (OT) services for patients in an acute care setting are currently available. This study was designed to determine whether patients with serum K+ levels of 3.1 to 5.9 mmol/L can participate safely in acute PT and OT interventions without serious adverse events. Methods: A total of 380 subjects admitted to an acute care hospital were stratified into groups with hypokalemia (K+ levels of 3.1-3.4 mmol/L), hyperkalemia (K+ levels of 5.1-5.9 mmol/L), or normal K+ levels (K+ levels of 3.5-5.0 mmol/L) and provided with standard PT or OT intervention. Baseline clinical characteristics and adverse outcomes were compared between groups. Results: No serious adverse events occurred. Termination of treatment due to minor adverse events occurred in 8 (2%) subject cases and all occurred in the normal K+ group (n = 8, 3%) (P =.029). Rates of adverse outcomes did not differ significantly between normal (n = 37, 15.5%) and abnormal K+ (n = 26, 16.4%) groups. Conclusions: Results of this study suggest that provision of PT and OT interventions for patients with serum K+ levels of 3.1 to 5.9 mmol/L is safe.





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