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South Med J. 2009 May;102(5):493-7. doi: 10.1097/SMJ.0b013e31819e8978.

Intestinal necrosis due to sodium polystyrene sulfonate (Kayexalate) in sorbitol.

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Department of Medicine, Rhode Island Hospital/Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, 593 Eddy Street, Providence, RI 02903, USA.



Sodium polystyrene sulfonate (SPS, Kayexalate) has been implicated in the development of intestinal necrosis. Sorbitol, added as a cathartic agent, may be primarily responsible. Previous studies have documented bowel necrosis primarily in postoperative, dialysis, and transplant patients. We sought to identify additional clinical characteristics among patients with probable SPS-induced intestinal necrosis.


Rhode Island Hospital surgical pathology records were reviewed to identify all gastrointestinal specimens reported as containing SPS crystals from December 1998 to June 2007. Patient demographics, medical comorbidities, and hospital courses of histologically verified cases of intestinal necrosis were extracted from the medical records.


Twenty-nine patients with reports of SPS crystals were identified. Nine cases were excluded as incidental findings with normal mucosa. Nine patients were excluded as their symptoms began before SPS administration or because an alternate etiology for bowel ischemia was identified. Eleven patients had confirmed intestinal necrosis and a temporal relationship with SPS administration suggestive of SPS-induced necrosis. Only 2 patients were postoperative, and only 4 had end-stage renal disease (ESRD). All patients had documented hyperkalemia, received oral SPS, and developed symptoms of intestinal injury between 3 hours and 11 days after SPS administration. Four patients died.


Intestinal ischemia is a recognized risk of SPS in sorbitol. Our series highlights that patients may be susceptible even in the absence of ESRD, surgical intervention, or significant comorbidity.

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