Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Clin Toxicol (Phila). 2014 Jul;52(6):584-93. doi: 10.3109/15563650.2014.923903. Epub 2014 Jun 6.

Barium toxicity and the role of the potassium inward rectifier current.

Author information

  • 1Participant in the Honours Program CRU2006 Bachelor, University Medical Center Utrecht , Utrecht , The Netherlands.



Barium is a stable divalent earth metal and highly toxic upon acute and chronic exposure. Barium is present in many products and involved in a number of industrial processes. Barium targets the potassium inward rectifier channels (IRCs) of the KCNJx gene family. Extracellular barium enters and strongly binds the potassium selectivity filter region resulting in blockade of the potassium conducting pore. IRCs are involved in numerous physiological processes of the human body and the most barium sensitive IRCs are highly expressed in all muscle types.


Our purpose was correlate to the clinical outcome of acute barium poisoning in man to current knowledge on IRC function.


The primary literature search was performed using Medline, Scopus and Google Scholar using search terms "barium AND poisoning"; "barium AND intoxication"; "barium AND case report" and retrieved publications from 1945 through 2012. Additional case reports were retrieved based on the reference lists of the primary hits. Duplicate publications, or publications presenting identical cases were omitted. A total of 39 case reports on acute barium poisoning containing 226 human subjects were identified for review.


BaCO3 was the most frequent source and food the most frequent mode of poisoning. Patients suffered from gastrointestinal (vomiting, diarrhea), cardiovascular (arrhythmias, hypertension), neuromuscular (abnormal reflexes, paralysis), respiratory (respiratory arrest/failure) and metabolic (hypokalemia) symptoms. Severe hypokalemia (< 2.5 mM) was observed from barium serum concentrations greater than or equal to 0.0025 mM. Review of the ECG outcomes demonstrated ventricular extrasystoles, ST changes and profound U-waves to be associated strongly with poisoning. Most common treatment modalities were gastric lavage, oral sulfates, potassium i.v. and cardiorespiratory support. 27 patients (12%) died from barium poisoning.


Barium is a potent, non-specific inhibitor of the potassium IRC current and affects all types of muscle at micromolar concentrations. Gastrointestinal symptoms frequently occur early in the course of barium poisoning. Hypokalemia resulting from an intracellular shift of potassium and the direct effect of barium at the potassium channels explain the cardiac arrhythmias and muscle weakness which commonly occur in barium poisoning. Treatment of barium poisoning is mainly supportive. Orally administered sulfate salts to form insoluble barium sulfate in the intestinal tract and potassium supplementation have potential but unproven benefit.


Arrhythmia; ECG; IK1; Ion channel; Paralysis; Poisoning

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for Informa Healthcare
    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk