Author(s): Barold SS, Herweg B
In patients with pacemakers, hyperkalaemia causes three important abnormalities that usually become manifest when the K level exceeds 7 mEq/L: (i) widening of the paced QRS complex from delayed intraventricular conduction velocity, (ii) Increased atrial and ventricular pacing thresholds that may cause failure to capture. In this respect, the atria are more susceptible to loss of capture than the ventricles, and (iii) Increased latency (usually with ventricular pacing) manifested by a greater delay of the interval from the pacemaker stimulus to the onset of depolarization. First-degree ventricular pacemaker exit block may progress to second-degree Wenckebach (type I) exit block characterized by gradual prolongation of the interval from the pacemaker stimulus to the onset of the paced QRS complex ultimately resulting in an ineffectual stimulus. The disturbance may then progress to 2 : 1, 3 : 1 pacemaker exit block, etc., and eventually to complete exit block with total lack of capture. Ventricular undersensing is uncommonly observed because of frequent antibradycardia pacing. During managed ventricular pacing, hyperkalaemia-induced marked first-degree atrioventricular block may induce a pacemaker syndrome. With implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) oversensing of the paced or spontaneous T-wave may occur. The latter may cause inappropriate shocks. A raised impedance from the right ventricular coil to the superior vena cava coil may become an important sign of hyperkalaemia in the asymptomatic or the minimally symptomatic ICD patient.