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Am J Kidney Dis. 1999 Apr;33(4):e8.

Unexpected severe hypocalcemia during continuous venovenous hemodialysis with regional citrate anticoagulation.

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Division of Renal Disease and Hypertension, The University of Texas Houston, Houston, TX, 77030, USA.


Citrate is known to induce acute hypocalcemia in patients undergoing liver transplantation during the anhepatic phase. We describe the case of a 71-year-old woman with fulminant hepatic failure secondary to hepatitis A, who was started on continuous venovenous hemodialysis (CVVHD) for acute renal failure. Because anticoagulation with heparin was untenable, regional anticoagulation was accomplished by trisodium citrate (46.7%) infusion. Unfortunately, severe hypocalcemia developed when citrate accumulated because of impaired hepatic metabolism. Because of chelation by citrate, the ionized calcium concentration declined to values as low as 2.72 mg/dL (normal, 4.5 to 5.6 mg/dL), whereas the total calcium concentration remained in the normal range. With an unusually high calcium chloride infusion rate via a central line (up to 140 mL/h of 10 mEq/dL CaCl2) and additional boli of CaCl2 (for a total of 190 mEq), the ionized calcium concentration could be maintained at target levels. Nevertheless, the ionized calcium concentration was maintained in the normal range, and the total calcium concentration increased to a value as high as 15 mg/dL. Thus, the total to ionized calcium ratio was 3.5:1. After 24 hours of treatment, trisodium citrate infusion was gradually reduced from 15 mL/h to 7 mL/h, and the calcium chloride infusion was decreased to 50 mL/h. Nevertheless, persistence of the elevated total to ionized calcium ratio (3:1) indicated citrate accumulation likely secondary to decreased hepatic metabolism. Using this approach, the patient was successfully maintained on CVVHD with regional citrate anticoagulation for a total of 11 days without any additional complications. We conclude that CVVHD with regional citrate anticoagulation can be used in patients with acute hepatic failure if increased CaCl2 requirements are anticipated and if citrate is infused at a lower rate compatible with decreased citrate metabolism. Citrate accumulation should be suspected in patients with an elevated total to ionized Ca++ ratio during CVVHD with citrate anticoagulation.

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