Serum Potassium, Mortality, and Kidney Outcomes in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study

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To investigate the association between serum potassium, mortality, and kidney outcomes in the general population and whether potassium-altering medications modify these associations.

Patients and Methods:

We studied 15,539 adults in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. Cox proportional hazard regression was used to investigate the association of serum potassium at baseline (1987-1989), evaluated categorically (hypokalemia, <3.5 mmol/L; normokalemia, ≥3.5 and <5.5 mmol/L; hyperkalemia, ≥5.5 mmol/L) and continuously using linear spline terms (knots at 3.5 and 5.5 mmol/L), with mortality, sudden cardiac death, incident chronic kidney disease, and end-stage renal disease. The end date of follow-up for all outcomes was December 31, 2012. We also evaluated whether classes of potassium-altering medications modified the association between serum potassium and adverse outcomes.


Overall, 413 (2.7%) of the participants had hypokalemia and 321 (2.1%) had hyperkalemia. In a fully adjusted model, hyperkalemia was significantly associated with mortality (hazard ratio, 1.24; 95% CI, 1.04-1.49) but not sudden cardiac death, chronic kidney disease, or end-stage renal disease. Hypokalemia as a categorical variable was not associated with any outcome; however, associations of hypokalemia with all-cause mortality and kidney outcomes were observed among those who were not taking potassium-wasting diuretics (all P for interaction, <.001).


Higher values of serum potassium were associated with a higher risk of mortality in the general population. Lower levels of potassium were associated with adverse kidney outcomes and mortality among participants not taking potassium-wasting diuretics.

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