Protection against severe hypokalemia but impaired cardiac repolarization after intense rowing exercise in healthy humans receiving salbutamol

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  • Tania Atanasovska
  • Robert Smith
  • Claus Graff
  • Cao T Tran
  • Jacob Melgaard
  • Kanters, Jørgen K.
  • Aaron C Petersen
  • Antony Tobin
  • Keld P Kjeldsen
  • Michael J McKenna

Intense exercise induces pronounced hyperkalemia, followed by transient hypokalemia in recovery. We investigated whether the β2 agonist salbutamol attenuated the exercise hyperkalemia and exacerbated the postexercise hypokalemia, and whether hypokalemia was associated with impaired cardiac repolarization (QT hysteresis). Eleven healthy adults participated in a randomized, counterbalanced, double-blind trial receiving either 1,000 µg salbutamol (SAL) or placebo (PLAC) by inhalation. Arterial plasma potassium concentration ([K+]a) was measured at rest, during 3 min of intense rowing exercise, and during 60 min of recovery. QT hysteresis was calculated from ECG ( n = 8). [K+]a increased above baseline during exercise (rest, 3.72 ± 0.7 vs. end-exercise, 6.81 ± 1.4 mM, P < 0.001, mean ± SD) and decreased rapidly during early recovery to below baseline; restoration was incomplete at 60 min postexercise ( P < 0.05). [K+]a was less during SAL than PLAC (4.39 ± 0.13 vs. 4.73 ± 0.19 mM, pooled across all times, P = 0.001, treatment main effect). [K+]a was lower after SAL than PLAC, from 2 min preexercise until 2.5 min during exercise, and at 50 and 60 min postexercise ( P < 0.05). The postexercise decline in [K+]a was correlated with QT hysteresis ( r = 0.343, n = 112, pooled data, P = 0.001). Therefore, the decrease in [K+]a from end-exercise by ~4 mM was associated with reduced QT hysteresis by ~75 ms. Although salbutamol lowered [K+]a during exercise, no additive hypokalemic effects occurred in early recovery, suggesting there may be a protective mechanism against severe or prolonged hypokalemia after exercise when treated by salbutamol. This is important because postexercise hypokalemia impaired cardiac repolarization, which could potentially trigger arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death in susceptible individuals with preexisting hypokalemia and/or heart disease. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Intense rowing exercise induced a marked increase in arterial potassium, followed by a pronounced decline to hypokalemic levels. The β2 agonist salbutamol lowered potassium during exercise and late recovery but not during early postexercise, suggesting a protective effect against severe hypokalemia. The decreased potassium in recovery was associated with impaired cardiac QT hysteresis, suggesting a link between postexercise potassium and the heart, with implications for increased risk of cardiac arrhythmias and, potentially, sudden cardiac death.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)624-633
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018

ID: 204298221